Make that big change… or not! Thanks to these self-retrospection exercises

Unhappy in your job, but uncertain if you changed, what you would do? Or perhaps you have a job you used to love, how do you rediscover that passion?

In business and agile product management, we talk about “pivoting” a product to meet the market. Pivoting is tweaking, changing direction, rebranding and more. But what about ourselves? Why not use the same product management and agile skills to improve ourselves, the most important product of all?

Business People doing Business Things
Obligatory motivational business photo with vague symbols and action lines. This could be you!

How do we pivot ourselves to meet our own “internal market” so that we may perform our best, motivated by our passion, and increase our return on investment (aka more happiness)?

Enough of these questions! The answers lie within you. Here are some self-retrospection exercises that have helped me and others make that big (or small) change towards happiness.

Exercise #1: Papertrail retrospection: What is “Past You”‘s “why?”

What makes you happy? Dogs make me happy.

Before knowing your next step, it is first important to reaffirm your baseline of what motivates you when out in the wild. Much like a business must construct the “why” of their product and test it, so must you. This is facilitated by looking back at your past life “tests” or experiences.

This exercise is especially important when considering big changes, and the answer can keep you in check in the future.

  1. Print out your CV, your Facebook/Twitter feed, your last couple emails, etc. or have them pulled up on your computer screen and grab a notebook to make notes. Do not just go off memory as you are bound to forget the important small details.
  2. Highlight/note the experiences where you were legitimately happy and/or proud.
  3. Take it a step deeper: WHY were you happy? Keep on asking “Why?” until you get to the underlying value that motivated your efforts. This may take a couple sessions of reflection to discover and it could evolve over time.
    Example: I was happiest when I helped launch that new website for a volunteer association. Why? Because it helped multiple countries. But why that? I was able to achieve something with a multi-national group. But why that? I met new interesting people and learned about myself. But why that? I enjoy new experiences with new cultures. But why that? I like diversity and challenging my own perspective. But why that? I need to continually grow and feel part of a global community.
  4. Now brainstorm what activities can you cut out to focus on only those that build you toward happiness. Or, do you need a complete change? No worry. you already have experience. Just look at your highlighted CV or notes!
    Examples:

    1. I only do websites as a hobby. I will focus on increasing my programming skills in my off time and start applying for international freelance projects.
    2. I will liberate time in my schedule by cutting out unnecessary meetings, and I will from my boss request approval to participate in the companies’ culture think-tank.

Bonus activity: Recreate your CV putting your highlighted experiences in the forefront and start floating it around on recrutement sites or consider going independent. You will be surprised how many bites you may get and how more motivated and convincing you will be in your interviews if it something you ACTUALLY like.

You recreating your CV.
Cannot find ANYTHING in your CV that makes you happy or proud?

That is why I also suggest searching your social media feeds, old photos, or personal emails. What makes you smile? You can still use these items to professionally progress. I know someone who once got a development job due to the personal WoW videogame forum he created. In interviews, I have successfully used my volunteer dance teaching and event organisation experience to boost myself. Often these personal experiences show more your motivation than paid gigs.

Me in college contemplating how I can spin “making wine in my closet” in my next job interview

Exercise #2: Classic Retrospection… Do, Rinse and Repeat

As I wrote about in my last article, retrospection can be applied in organisations on varying team levels. Also do that for yourself! I am a firm believer that the Agile methodology does not just apply to business.

This exercise is good to do on a continuous basis. Reflecting on your entire life or one area (personal, family or side professional project), ask yourself:

In [AREA OF MY LIFE]…

What has made me the happiest?

What takes away from my happiness?

What are some solutions?

Journal out your responses; focus on one solution (we cannot change Rome in a day); and then return to this in your next self-retrospection in the coming week, month, etc. Find your rhythm and stick to it.

Yellow jacket not required.

The End Result

The end result could be:

  1. You do love your job and now you know why you love it. In addition, you can use this knowledge of your “why” to decide in the future on new endeavors or commitments.
  2. You love your job but you currently are spending too much time on happiness-detractors derailing you.
  3. You would like to change within your field.
  4. You have exhausted all possibilities, and now, want to completely change.

All these are fine responses. Reflect (but not too much) and then just do it. Take your next step or embrace where you are.

Ever feel like you are waiting for a sign? Oh well, back to the game!

A Personal Case Study:

These activities are based upon past mentoring experiences and my own recent personal journey. For those interested, my recent foibles go as follows:

I started as a web developer and designer. Seven years ago, I transitioned to team and product management. Now I am an Agile organisation and product vision coach, trainer and writer.

Accurate depiction of me

Five months ago, I took my latest leap to coach 100%. After 12 years in the industry, this change in hindsight now seems natural, but it took some not-so-evident reflection.

You see, I had an issue for despite gaining more and more opportunities and acknowledgement for my product work in larger and more prestigious companies, I was not happy.

This unease befuddled me, my husband, my friends, my family, and the random barman I would sulk to.

Me in my short stint as the lead singer of my dad’s rock band.

If you look back at my life and professional career as a series of iterative experiments, as far as advancement, all would point towards not pivoting.

After all, only now, Product Management is really getting the acknowledgement and the solidification that it deserves. Now companies are finally waking up. They are hungry to define and fill these types of postions with better compensation and recognition.

But only money and advancement matters, right?

It depends. For some people, “Yes.” That is fine, but reflecting back again, obviously as someone who gave up everything to restart her career in “salary-poor” Paris, money is not my greatest motivator (though it is nice… I am not a robot and need money for cheese… my greatest “why”).

Really what is not to love? This cheese did this on its own… in ambiant room temperature.

So after doing further self-retrospection and the activities above, I realized of all my experiences I was the MOST happy when it was facilitating team growth and product vision, but not necessarily orchestrating it.

When teams were more efficient, autonomously delivering better quality and were happier, I was happier.
When companies lost in the woods discovered the product vision they had been searching for thanks to my advice or facilitation, I felt found.

You see, despite my titles not reflecting it, I did amass five years experience helping teams transform whether as a manager, teammate, or agile advocate within the company. While often this was a side goal given to me or for which I volunteered, I started becoming known for my Agile expertise. In fact, in my last position they hired me expressly as a Product Owner whose first mission was to complete the Agile transformation and advocate for new ways of working.

Here is another cheese photo to break it up a little.

So now, after all these experiments (and I have changed jobs often), what rose to the surface naturally? It was this passion to facilitate the growth of others. I would have never come to this conclusion without wiping the slate clean, including the red-herring that was my past goal of product management upward mobility.

Flush Out Your “Idea of You” as You Grow

There is no perfect answer or perfect life “test”.  Here is a great TED talk by Ruth Change about making tough life decisions for inspiration. What is important is to move forward and cultivate an attitude of self-introspection.

Not sure how to put your past non-professional ‘happy’ experiences to work? Leave a comment. Have you made a leap recently? Share your own story.

Are you now a pilot?

Meanwhile, I will keep you all up to date with my own journey.

The First Agile Baby Step Is Inwards

When it comes to big new life changes, I am as guilty as anyone in my need for premature optimization, meaning my first instinct is to not start before all is ‘perfectly’ planned… sometimes so that I never actually start.

Paralyzed, I want to change in a big WATERFALL kind of way where everything is planned out and all items implemented at once.

But then I shake myself a little, say a few choice words in the mirror, and step forward in an agile, iterative, and most importantly, reflective way.

Because the first step is the most important.

Not HOW you do it. But JUST the fact you do it.

So, the first step for transforming your business towards agile is … ?

The same goes for transforming your business, project, team, etc. to begin using ‘agile’ methodologies. It is a big company culture change! You must resist implementing all at once. When I am ranting on about how much I adore agile, I am quite often asked :

Okay, but how do I implement it? Where to start?

There is a glimmer of fear in their eye as they reach for their coffee or beer (Yes, I ramble on about agile outside of work… often.)

CC Alvaro Perez
Copyright Alvaro Perez

This question is hard to answer without meeting the team and knowing the particular intricacies of the project and the overall production needs. In addition, it is best not to prescribe too much as it really depends on the team’s unique DNA and what THEY want to do first (Yay, autoorganization!)… as top down rarely works with these kinds of changes.

The first step I often recommend and one of the easiest to implement (once the team is convinced) is putting into place: “Retrospectives” or “Retros”.

What is a Retro?

A retrospective can take many forms and often should change and adapt with the team over time (if not to add some spice). The overall idea is the team gets together to reflect upon:

Since the last retro…

  1. What went well?
  2. What could improve?
  3. What are some solutions?

Then two or three of the solutions are collectively chosen and teammates volunteer to follow these points until next retrospective. After all, we can not change Rome in a day! Here are some ideas for retro formats.

How often and who?

Depends on your team! Typically retrospectives are at the end of the development cycle for development Scrum teams.  I suggest conducting retrospectives at least once a month for non-development teams, especially in the beginning.

Oh, that is right.  I suggest retrospectives on all levels. It is not just the developers that produce, so why not spend that valuable time improving on all levels?

You have multiple product owners? Do a scrum to scrum retrospective! Do a company wide one! Marketing team one! All levels will profit from regular introspection, though the time intervals and format will vary depending on the scope.

The key is though to not turn retrospectives into ‘diss’ fests against people or teams not present. This should be watched for and any point involving those not present should be noted and taken up in the next retrospective including them or by their manager in private. If it is solely a personal conflict then it is best discussed between the two people involved.

In addition, I am a big advocate for having mixed profiles in the retrospectives including managers. BUT it is important that the managers exercise listening and letting each person, especially those naturally timid, feel free and safe to express themselves.

Much like brainstorming sessions, the participants must freely be able to communicate their ideas and thoughts. Only later when you vote on the most important solution upon which to work , should there be a HEALTHY debate on the pertinence.

Here is the kicker: You have to actually do it for it to work

Now over the years of seeing various companies/projects/teams transition to agile, one of the biggest stifling factors has been cutting off open communication or not prioritizing it. For example: just filing away retros as “another meeting”. This I have found especially true for non-sprint organized teams.

Ug another meeting?
Ug another meeting? Meetings have been hated since well before 2016.

“Ahh… well I have so many meetings… so much to do. Do we REALLY have to have our retro? Didn’t we just have one? I would appreciate it if we could push it off… I have this [INSERT DEADLINE] coming up.”

Respond, “No, sorry. It is important.”

Hey, secretly, you may even want to cancel it! It takes time and energy to communicate openly and establish healthy channels to do so. But giving that loving push to yourself and others to keep to the retro routine is important.

Trust me; of all the times my teams have wanted to cancel the retrospective… Where people grumbled, “Well, what do we really have to say to each other? We talk a lot already.”… those OFTEN turn out to be the best retrospectives. People leave smiling and feeling loved because they took the time to improve themselves and their team, vent their frustrations and find solutions.

Pro tip: Bring candy. People love candy. Or ask people to volunteer taking turns cooking or purchasing food to bring. Food = love, commitment and yumminess. Plus, it gives the team a sense of ownership. They will want to be at that retro so that they did not bring food for nothing!

4751483994_fbfd158921_o
Copyright Lottie

But why?

Well other than the free candy… In your agile transition or project life you may not always make the right decisions. The first steps may be off path, BUT if you bake in moments of reflection, you can easily fix these mis-steps and learn from them. Turn them into an investment and not a loss.

So no crazy long, overly optimized roadmap of how to transition to agile is necessary.

CC CP Ewing
Copyright CP Ewing

Just start by talking with each other.

Just take that first step and keep at it and the rest will eventually fall in line.