Personal improvement

Dear Kalle and Matte,

So, I have been thinking about this a lot lately…

Quite a while back I had a sort of epiphany to do with continues improvement (CI), I decided that CI was the true key to successful agile implementations, after that I started to see the need for this in everything I looked at, especially myself. But for this post I will focus on my role and a Scrum Master/Agile Coach.

So, there is a lot of places I want to practice CI, and I have had some limited success with this… Monthly meetings with the Scrumbeers group let’s bounce ideas off people, get feedback and think about new approaches… But, it’s not enough!

The issue is 2 fold:
1) Motivation and focus:
I basically know I need to spend some time reading blog posts, books, attending conferences,  probably a lot of other stuff… But I can’t seem to get my butt in gear and do it. I was trying for a while to read 1 fiction, then 1 agile book… The problem was it was always easier to read a fiction after a hard days work. I am thinking what I need is a solid plan of how often to spend on what. Like 2 hours book, 1 hour blogs a week. And 2 conferences a year… Or something along that line… Then I have to work hard on focusing myself and doing this. Thoughts? Maybe if we vowed to do something as a group? (Could include blog posts here)

2) What do I do!?!
There is soooooo much out there, it is really difficult to decide what to focus on. I tried looking online for a Scrum Master development path, but got no good results from that (Aside from the certification path). I feel I need to set some goals and limitations on myself, while at the same time leaving time to explore and examine ideas I would not normally…
Anyone got ideas about what to focus on? I have too many ideas is my issue…

So, what do you guys say? Who wants to commit a few hours a week to personal improvement? Or, do you think this needs to be a personal journey?

Also, any of our other readership is invited to weigh in on this conversation!


6 thoughts on “Personal improvement

  1. I’ll take Jeff up on his offer to comment, and not be a creepy Internet-lurker. 🙂

    My old friend Jeff has been kind enough to offer guidance and discussion in my move to lead a development team for a university enterprise system into the agile world – and he pointed me to this blog as a point of inspiration. I’m new to agile myself so he has been very helpful – thanks to Jeff for bringing me here to benefit from Kalle and Matte’s discussions!

    Re the post – being a newbie, I don’t feel I can comment well on #2, but #1 got me thinking:

    I think something like CI in the personal realm needs to be built in – part of daily life. Whether that is something like fitness, or reading, or meditation, or in this case, professional/personal improvement. I love charting out plans for X number of books to read/crunches to do, whatever – but I never stick with them. I’ve come to find that I’m the sort of person who needs the activity, whatever that may be, to be routine. I don’t do workout plans, and got rid of my car so I bike everywhere. I now get exercise I never would have gotten before and I don’t even think about it. That seems to be key – I shouldn’t have to think about it, or “sacrifice” to do it – because, quite frankly, I will get frustrated and give up. You mentioned having to fight to read non-fiction after a hard day’s work – you were sacrificing your relaxation/fun time for the sake of improvement.

    I think the question you should ask is what works for YOU – is it a structured, goal based plan, or something else? Ignoring the specific “thing” you are trying to accomplish, what makes you adopt something as part of your regular life/routine? Then apply that method to your goal of CI and see where it gets you.

    And those are my n00b thoughts! Thanks for reading. 🙂

  2. I was hoping to lure you in to commenting with that one 😉
    Just a note, the blog is not really about Agile, it’s about random stuff we want to talk about, and occasionally it’s about agile.

    I think you are bang on with that assesment!
    Even though I really enjoy learning about agile, it always seems a little too much like work in my leisure time. I never have an issue with Scrumbeers because that is such a fun activity, it’s very easy to make that…

    The question is, how do I find out what works for me… I am really not sure where to start…

    I suppose I have worked very hard on my continous improvment in Civilization 5, maybe I should look to what motivates me there 😉 Mattias, you have any opinions on that one?

  3. Agree with you on the importance of CI in Agile, my top two most important points for agile are:

    * Always work on the “most important” item. Don’t waste the good hours you have on things that don’t matter. This is usually solved by a prioritized backlog.

    * Always improve. Regardless of how bad things are, they will move in the right direction if you do this.

    Also agree with Natalie on improvement in your spare time having to be a natural part of your life and not something forced! When it comes to exercise, I love playing Squash because it feel like playing but hate the threadmill because it feel like working.

    However, I think you are ignoring a good part of your day that you can use for improving your skills – the work hours!

    Now, you might say: “But Mattias, I don’t have time to go to conferences or read books at work.” But what I’m suggesting is to take a few minutes (5-10 should be fine) at the end of the day and do mini-retrospectives with yourself of how the day went.

    * For the stuff that went badly (like a presentation or a task you got stuck on), make a short note in your favorite tool / fabulous notebook. Think about if you could have done anything differently there. Is there a skill you are lacking? How have others approached this problem? Can you try something different next time? Then write down an action in one short sentence. Do this next time / ASAP / etc. Also, look at your list of older notes. If you are writing down the same thing a lot, make that your focus.

    * Remember to pat yourself on the back on the things that went well (discretely, and don’t overdo it or your colleagues will start looking at you funnily). Make a short note on your list of achievements. Think about why it went well. Make a one sentence reminder note so you remember to do it well again.

    If you really don’t have 5-10 minutes to spare at the end of the day, do it on the bus. / tram / in the car (apart from the writing part of course – safety first!). The key here is KISSASS – Keep It Short, Smart And Simple Stupid, this should be a sustainable approach.

    Am I doing this myself? No, but don’t let that stop you. 🙂

  4. Listening to the first episode of the And Jeff podcast again, I realize that I pretty much stole of my advice above from Kalle… Whatever, just remember: imitation is the greatest form of flattery. 😉

  5. Natalie described what I consider most relevant. With Mattias’ notes to that I can only try to add something to your specific situation with agile.

    If it seems too much like work, perhaps it is and perhaps it should stay that way.
    Your description of Scrum Beers suggests that Agile learning and free time can go together for you. Perhaps you can find other ways of cultivating your Agile knowledge, ways that doesn’t feel like work. Agile Toolkit Podcast did this for me, perhaps there is an equivalent for you.

    I would find the following question important in find an appropriate approach:
    Why do you want to learn about Agile?
    …Will knowing more about agile scratch any particular itch you are experiencing?
    …Do you think general knowledge might be helpful in the future?
    …Do you want knowledge for knowledge’s sake?
    …Or what might the purpose be? And what motivates you in wanting to learn?
    Ok, that was more than one question ;).

    And Mattias, then allow me to flatter you. The idea for the personal retrospectives I did and sometimes still do came from you. I mostly gave it a name: Introretrospectives.

    • Well, I think the big goal here is to be able to speak more clearly on a variety of topics. I am often asked questions about, how do we do this? Or that… And sometimes I have a good answer from expereince, but sometimes I don’t.

      One of the other big reasons is, when you encounter resistance it is much easier to overcome if you have well reasoned “arguments” to make your case with. So, I think when working within organisations trying to create change, it is a huge benifit to be able to speak with more authority on topics that come up. Basically, so you don’t end up saying “because scrum says so” but why it says so.

      Good example (since I feel I am not being clear)
      Someone in the team says “Let’s extend the sprint so we finish the work we committed to”
      In my early days I would often cave on this because I was not able to properly motivate why this was a bad idea.
      But now, I have many well reasoned and persuasive “arguments” why this is a bad idea, and people see the point and agree to end the sprint on time.
      These “arguments” comes from a combination or experience and general study. I would like to be able to do this on more topics.
      So, that is the goal here… If you follow me…

      * I put “arguments” in quotes so I could clearly state my intention is not to win arguments, as I don’t feel that improves anything and can often make people defensive. My goal is to motivate why I say something, and hopefully convince others through that motivations.


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