I recently wrote a guest post for Agile Cymru about how to get a habit for learning.  This week, I spoke to a wonderful Scrum Master Community about how they could each build their own personal development plans.

It struck me that these 2 things are pieces in the same puzzle, and actually it would be great to write about here.  It’s not rocket science.  It’s not even about discipline & hard work…well, maybe a little at first.  Actually, it all comes down to building some new habits.

Getting Started

Step 1:  Start With Your “Why?”Gated Stairway

Why you are even looking to build a learning plan is important.  A little like writing a great user story, you need to understand what value you want out of it at the end.  For that matter, how you will know you have got that value? Where is this ‘end’ you are imagining?

Start by being as specific as possible with what this ‘end’ looks like.  Try and describe, as if to a stranger, how the ‘new you’ will look, sound, act.  These are effectively your ‘acceptance criteria’ and will help you to know when you have reached your (currently held) goal.

Iterate over the wording, until it says just what you mean it to say.  This is the measure against which you will hold yourself.

Step 2:  Set Up A JournalJournal

have written before about how much I value journalling for learning, and I ask it of everyone I coach.  Whether you prefer Evernote (my fave), One Note, Word, or old school notebook doesn’t matter so long as you have one.  This becomes your personal retrospective space.  Learning to reflect objectively & with self-compassion about your day or week, will help you learn faster.

I also use my journal to record the other steps below – it becomes a living breathing document of my work, past, present & future.

Step 3: Make it a priority, make it regular, make it a habit.

The crux of making something a habit is:

  • First, decide when will be a good time of day to do your reflections and your learning time (they may be different).
  • Second, decide how often feels right to do each of these activities.  Again, they may be different.
  • Thirdly, find a trigger for your new habit.  Can you tie your new activity to something you already do that often to help you remember to do it?  If you want to learn for half an hour every day, find something you do every day e.g. have breakfast or attend stand-up.  Schedule your learning slot for the half an hour right after breakfast.  You will build a daily habit that means you learn for half an hour after breakfast everyday.
  • Celebrate achieving your new habit in your journal.  Even if you only managed 3 out of 5 expected events in a week, remember to celebrate those.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your new habit be.

Remember to schedule monthly, quarterly & annual reflections as well as your regular ones.  Looking back over a longer time frame will allow you to see patterns you may otherwise miss.  You also see how much you have learned when you are able to look back over a longer distance.

Be warned, over time your goals will gradually move & change in your mind.  It is a curious thing, but without checking your progress often you may feel like you will never achieve your goals. Record it & regularly review it, then CELEBRATE IT when you get there!  Now set a new goal 🙂

What To Learn?

I like to imagine your new personal learning plan like a trello board.  You can keep adding things, ever growing & expanding the backlog, and rearranging what comes next.  But how do you start adding things on to this list?

Step 4:  What Do You Already Know?Reading

What is it that you know right now?  How do you measure that you know it?  You know about lots of things already, try to get a broad coverage of topics.

Perhaps you know how to run the Mad/Sad/Glad Retro and why?  Great.  Maybe you have story breakdowns nailed?  Awesome.

Do you know how to run a dozen different types of Retro and when you might choose each?  No?  Cool, that goes in to the next step then.

Step 5:  What Do You Want To Know More About?

This is the beginnings of your development plan as you have probably imagined it: stuffed full of interesting topics.  What do you know about already but recognise you’d like to know more?  Using the last example, perhaps you would like to have more retrospective formats in your pocket and ready to go.  Perfect.

Or perhaps you have heard about project kick-offs or team visioning sessions, but never had an opportunity to try running one.

Step 6:  What Have You Heard Of, But Know Nothing About?

The steps above are relatively easy for you to fill out in your journal, but here is where the rubber really meets the road.  What do you know of, but not know about?  Some ideas for this could be things like:

  • The “No Estimates” idea
  • Safety Checks for teams
  • Process Mapping
  • Value Stream Mapping
  • Failure Demand
  • Systems Thinking

Initially, you may only have 1 or 2 things in this section today.  That’s ok.  This is where you are going to start adding things in over the coming weeks and months.  Every time you read or hear of something new, make a note of it by adding it to your learning plan.

Two Final Things

Practice Your Practicals

Really this is a theme that runs through the whole of your learning – its not just about learning from book, blogs, videos etc.  You must also practice what you learn.

Volunteer to fill in for a colleague if they are on holiday, or off sick.  You get to practice your facilitation skills with a different team, and learn by doing.  Don’t forget to reflect on your experience and record your thoughts in your journal.

Arrange with a colleague to observe them run one of their ceremonies.  This is not just learning by observing, you will also get to practice giving feedback to you colleague.  They will get to practice receiving feedback from you!  You could then offer for them to observe you, and again you both benefit from practising giving & receiving feedback.

A Word On Shared Learning

matesIf you belong to a community of Scrum Masters, use it.  If not, set one up!  Shared learning is very powerful.  Here are some things you could do with other Scrum Masters:

  • Practice your facilitation skills by taking turns to present to each other about a topic you have recently learned about.
  • Arrange a regular session so that you can watch a video together and discuss it afterwards.  (Some ideas can be found on this page).
  • Start a book club, agree to read a set amount each week / month etc. and meet up to discuss what you read. (Here are some books you might like to start with).

So now you have a set of ever-expanding lists of resources from which to pull your next exciting piece of learning from.  Be warned:  It will grow faster than you can work though it!  This is perfectly normal 🙂

For another idea for shared learning try this post.

For more on why I value reading (in all it’s forms) try this post.


Next week’s post:      Levelling Up Your Learning: What Next?