Execute your Goals - how to apply Scrum for Professional Success

Updated: 4 months ago
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Self-evaluation for last year – Done. Goal setting for the current year – checked.

All right! Now comes the enormous task of goals execution.

Many of us start every calendar year with a firm resolution to achieve our professional goals and for the first few months, we stick to the plan. Gradually the enthusiasm fizzles down by the time we reach second quarter and completely fades off without any track while we are filing Income tax returns in the midyear. Then suddenly, around the month of October when we are nudged by the automatic mailers to fill the self-evaluation, we start panicking.

Does this sound familiar?

To aspire for big goals is self-praising. But to get them executed swiftly is an ardent task. Whether you have heard of agile methodology or not, we suggest using Scrum to accomplish your goals. Scrum is one of the methods to run Agile model.

What is SCRUM?

Scrum is a project execution model under Agile—used widely in software development projects and is popular due to its smaller but fast-paced deliveries.

In this method, you execute your tasks in a fixed number of days called sprint and keep a track of the progress daily. Scrum compels analyzing the problems and the showstoppers called impediments, retrospect your accomplishments, the journey involved, and shuffling the goals if needed.

For simplicity, let us take a common yet aspiring goal—Promotion. Targeting promotion as a goal is fascinating when talked about but an overwhelming or even daunting term for many when executed. It whirls your mind when you start stepping towards the task.

How would you execute your goals to success with Scrum?

Define Epic and Stories

That is defining your goals in a broader and then detailed way. So your Epic is promotion and you have to divide your daunting goal into smaller achievable tasks called Stories. Say following have been set as smaller tasks or stories to get the promotion:

  • Technical certification
  • Earn your industry badge
  • Leadership training
  • Soft skills enhancement

Achievable Stories should follow INVEST rule that is:

  • Independent – each story should be independent of the others so that no barrier comes on its way of realization.
  • Negotiable – because there are many important works in life and career that take precedence such as your hectic project, which may push your goal sideways, the negotiation is important to fit a change in the plan. A goal may need to be shifted for future sprints which makes way to for a smaller goal in the current sprint
  • Valuable – why invest time in any goal that is not important. Chuck away a task that is not contributing towards your promotion.
  • Estimable – the story should be feasible to complete in the target time.
  • Small – divide the epic into smaller achievable targets because smaller goals are easier to finish and have lesser hurdles to resolve.
  • Testable – the story should have a result that is measurable like a certificate. Some stories might result in intangible benefits such as an improved skill but as long as you see the outcome, consider the goal achieved.

Now how do you execute these smaller stories?

1. Sprint division

Agile’s main idea is to perform the tasks in a time-boxed manner.

You need to divide the time available with you into feasible iterations called sprint. Since tasks towards these goals cannot occupy a full day or 9 hours a day like your day-to-day job, you need to set aside a time for every working day to work on your stories. Usually, a sprint in Scrum is between one week and one month. At the end of each iteration, you should have your stories completed with result in your hands. You can target multiple stories in a single sprint.

A sprint starts with a Sprint Planning meeting. You can take out 15-30 minutes on the first day of your sprint to decide which all stories should be targeted in the sprint, what would you need and

Assume, you want to acquire a certification on Supply Chain Management (SCM). You have to take some courses, read materials and prepare for the certification. You might need to sort out the right certification amongst the many available in the market. Now, you have further tasks as:

  • Take an online course
  • Read materials
  • Prepare mock papers
  • Identify the right certification
  • Go for the certification

You can achieve each of the above tasks at the end of one sprint. Remember, a new iteration can be a refinement of a previous sprint too. So if you set a sprint to be two weeks, ideally you should be able to achieve the SCM certificate after 10 weeks.

2. Tracking via daily Scrum

You are the one who is answerable for your goal execution. This is a one-man army and it becomes difficult to track a task when there is no external authority to account you. So, daily scrum comes into picture where you record your progress on a daily basis. You need to have set aside five minutes for daily brainstorming on your progress. Set out a fixed slot, which is free of regular hassles.

Now you should ask these questions:

  • What did you do yesterday?
  • What are you going to do today?
  • What is stopping you to proceed?

These questions will help you to keep on track and progress smoothly. Since this is ‘Scrum for one’, you have to question yourself and your answers should be self-satisfactory. Chance of missing a daily Scrum is high, so set a reminder in your phone. The agenda can also go for a toss. So record.

Many Scrum boards are available online like Trello, Flying Donut, and VivifyScrum. You can take benefits of these. However, I prefer a simple way, sticking a whiteboard (or a chart paper) on the wall, diving it in four quadrants and using post-its for the progress. And it had worked for me most of the time while working on my short stories and fictions.

Other innovative and interesting daily stand-up methods can be used such as 1-minute daily video or just an audio for the record keeping, while you are having a daily scrum with yourself. People performing ‘Scrum for one’ have been using these. How about simply keeping a handwritten note in a journal?

A Scrum board will more or less look like the image below. The actual Agile board will have a testing section instead of hurdles and each of the four sections have their impediments noted in a separate color of post-it to address. But, as we are working on a one-man Scrum and testing may not be a viable step for career goals, we have made a section of hurdles separately.

A Simple Scrum Board

3. Retrospection

A retrospection meeting happens on the last day of the sprint. During this time, you should look back at your completed stories and find what improvements can be done in future and what went great in the achievements.

This is an exclusive time to analyze the past, not the future. So ask yourself as many questions as possible:

  • Is the sprint goal achieved?
  • What went wrong or slow?
  • What were the productivity blocks?
  • What could have been better?
  • Was the time managed well?
  • What did you learn new?
  • What did you enjoy in the process?

Collect minimum two reflections from the above questionnaire from every sprint to execute the next iteration better.

There can be many ways to execute a plan towards your goals. Scrum as an agile methodology is a fast-paced approach towards a project execution with some room for flexibility and shuffling. But use this room wisely. Scrum is known to improve productivity only with time. So, retrospection is necessary.

A few points to remember while using Scrum to execute the career goals:

  1. Don’t lose heart if a story is incomplete or still sleeping in To-Do list. The real world throws lots of hurdles our way while following what we desire. Things come in personal life. High priority issues come in the work too.
  2. If a story looks like a big one to fit in one sprint midway, don’t hesitate to divide again into multiple stories across different sprints keeping INVEST rule in mind.
  3. Always take time out to plan for a sprint on the first day itself.
  4. Tweak the stories and the path to complete them but try to not stretch sprints beyond the stipulated time.
  5. If you like online tools then use the agile boards available on the sites suggested above. I prefer a simple whiteboard for my writing work with a monthly sprint. Simplicity has its own benefits.
  6. You can use Scrum method in your personal life. Try it and let us know how it works.

‘Scrum for one’ might seem a bit tedious to manage with too many meetings on a daily basis. But, once you develop a routine after one or two iterations, you would enjoy the process. You would also know the common issues in your first sprint. Many projects treat the first sprint as Sprint-0 or a test sprint. Agile has been famous for delivering fast results with gradual improved productivity. Try it in your career and see if it works for you. You just need discipline.

Let us know if you have any other mind-blowing idea to achieve your career goals with satisfactory results.

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