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If you're an agile practitioner here are 3 retro questions to ask yourself

OMG what a year..! I don't know about you but I'm exhausted and keen to put 2020 behind me and look towards what next year offers. During the last 12 months research tells us that the impact of the pandemic has actually rewired our brains. We are less optimistic and more fearful of threats. It is like a pessimistic COVID bias has enveloped the entire planet! So I wanted to share some techniques to self-facilitate an end of year retro; I'm calling it an introspective-retrospective. Here's an introduction video to the topic; the rest of the post goes into more detail.

The 3 questions of an introspective retrospective

I'd like to provide readers with some tips, techniques and hacks I've used to get past my own bias and learn from my experiences this year; its a self-coaching practice. I've arranged this post into 3 questions to help you look at yourself and your year from different angles/perspectives:

  1. Did you stay close to your WHY this year? or forget what brought you to work in agile in the first place

  2. Did you lose your passion? Did you have enough (any) peak emotional highs and experience flow?

  3. Are you on the right career path? Are you acting out of fear (of losing your job) instead of curiosity/opportunity.

I'd like to unpack each of these and give you some guidance to self-facilitate your introspective retro. As you read be prepared to maybe take a pause and do the retro now; If you're really keen I've put some short videos into each section for your to watch too.

WHY do you work in agile?

Why does knowing your WHY matter? Simple, because being why-driven will naturally move you towards doing more of what you love and shape your career away from unfulfilling agile roles. Ok, I hear you asking.. so how do I find my why?

In amongst our everyday busyness it is difficult to find reflective space to get clear on our personal reason for wanting to be an agile practitioner. It is not always important to link who we our (our identity) to what we do for a job but I would like you to at least consider if work has any greater meaning for you. We spend so much time at work wouldn't it be cool if you could make a connection to a higher purpose instead of just collecting a pay cheque every month?

Here are two techniques to help you connect to your deeper WHY:

Experiment with using the 5-whys on this question "Why do you work in agile?" and then see where it takes you. I recently asked this of a customer that was moving his company towards an agile way of working and we got as far as two WHYs; there was no depth there. We then spent a few session together discovering and connecting him to a deeper sense of purpose and how it connects to agile's values. How deep is your connection to agile..?

how deep does your agile go?
how deep does your agile go?

Before I finish up on the topic of WHY I'd like to share a template you can use to help guide you to get some words down that describe your WHY. This comes from Zach Mercurio's book about purposefulness. He talks about your Why being in the service of others. Here's his handy template too:

I/We exist to ______________(action verb) _____________________ (humans, who?) to _____________________________ (think/feel/do/believe).

A nice quote from the book: "Nothing a person or organization undertakes exists for its own sake. Every product we use, company we work for, and academic degree we seek exists to help people and to solve some human problem or to fill a human need or desire."

This video provides a taste of his thinking:

(shout out to Ed OShaughnessy for this tip).

Below is a video where I use all of the above to outline my personal WHY as an example for you to learn from.

Do you have passion in your agile?

Being in flow should be every professional's goal as they work. Here's a definition directly from the person who literally wrote the book on flow; Cziksentmihalyi, ‘Flow: The psychology of optimal experience’ (2008).

“A state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

Having read that don't you want to be in flow all the time? I do, but it is unreasonable to be having "the best time of your life" every minute of every day. So how much flow and fun is just enough to keep our work life meaningful? I wrote about tapping into flow in my book where I quoted research that indicated we only need 20% of our work week to involve flow for us to feel satisfied with our job and create meaning through our work. So as you retrospect your year, look for the times you were in flow; was it often, what was taking you out of flow, what could you do next year to bring more flow into your work?

Next I'd like to share a passion retro technique. A timeline of your emotions for the year; the aim being to identify peak experiences (and troughs to learn from). Here's an example illustration with dots tracking emotion and cards for the different "episodes" across the year; highs (green), lows (red) and worries (yellow). You could combine this with the idea of flow and use another coloured card for high-flow periods of work. The aim is to identify the highs and lows; learn from the lows and then interrogate them for insights and ideas on how to amplify high and avoid deep lows. This would also be fun to do with those in your immediate work team, sharing how you all experienced the year; but do your personal retro first as the introspection is important.

Here's a short video if you'd like to hear me explaining all of the above with my examples.

Do you have what you need for your next agile role?

...and are you on the right career path?

How do you know you are in the right role? Well my experience has shown me there are two ways you can find out; but you have to be paying attention for them to work:

  1. be on the lookout for a series of "events" where you didn't have a good day/moment. It might be a meeting where you lost your cool and were disruptively emotional or a heated exchange with a peer or manager that ended up producing unresolved resentment.

  2. sometimes it isn't big loud events but a growing sense of dread at having to show up everyday. Slowly you find your energy and motivation is consistently low until your normal mood is bordering on depressing.

Whether its a big dramatic series of events or a slow realisation, the conclusion is the same; that it is time to move on and into another role (or at least explore it as an option). To consider what the right path and role is for you, I think it is important to have an understanding of yourself; including strengths and areas where you need to do some work. It may simply be that you need to reconnect back to your purpose and/or passions. Of course to do this you need to know what they are; this requires introspection and reflection.

The other aspect to consider as you look forward to what's next in your career is to collect as much feedback (data) on your behaviour as possible. Start with friendlies and your immediate circle of people you work with daily and go from there. I suggest some ideas on how to do this in the video below.

Lastly, I think it is important to know how your agile practitioner capabilities are progressing and get some objective assessment of where you are relative to the market for agile practitioners. So spend some time considering your skillset and where the market opportunities are and undertake a compare and contrast; maybe do this with a buddy who you know and trust to give you honest appraisal of your skills/experience. Here's a short video where I explain my thoughts on this a little more using the Johari window model.

I hope you enjoyed this post; I'm trying to post something worth reading once per week; subscribe for my newsletter in the footer at the bottom of the page or go here to get these posts directly to your inbox, and/or connect with me on social media, or just drop by here whenever :-) Also if you like this then share it with someone who could use a little introspective retro support at the end of what has been a difficult year for us all.

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