Survival of the flexible
Blog posted by: Amy Metcalfe – Project Editor, AXELOS, 12 November 2020.
The professional world is volatile, and that will probably always be true. In fact, it’s getting more and more unpredictable. New technologies, cultural expectations, and requirements mean it is impossible to predict what future roles and responsibilities will look like (don’t trust the films!).
This means that learning and development is becoming increasingly important, but it is hard to know what skills will be useful in the long-term.
Flexibility is the key to success
Luckily, an agile mindset can help you stay adaptable, embrace uncertainties, and leverage opportunities.
What if, rather than falling into a career in your early twenties and working stubbornly in the same field until retirement, you embraced uncertainty? You could build a career by periodically asking yourself ‘What do I want from my job?’ and being flexible about your long-term direction.
You can get lots of things out of a job, including experience, satisfaction, networking/training/travel opportunities, benefits, and so on. By considering the outcomes you want and need, you can identify which roles will help you progress. When industries fluctuate (as is inevitable), you can assess your current development and, if necessary, move in a new direction based on your priorities.
Working flexibly ensures that the effort you put into learning and development is rarely wasted. The idea is to learn as you go and let your experience and skills influence your progression, rather than letting a long-term goal dictate the training you undertake.
Several agile techniques can be adapted and used to structure your professional development activities. They include:
Narrowing the delta
The delta is the gap between your skills and proficiencies and those of your competition or your ideal future self. Narrowing the delta should be a continual process with four stages:
- recognize the extent of the delta
- narrow the delta through activities like training, networking, and research
- expect the delta to grow again as the environment changes
Because the environment is volatile, professionals must expect the delta to continually shift. This means that professional development is no longer just about enabling career progression. Instead, it is a crucial ongoing activity that is necessary just to remain where you are; someone who has stopped learning and is unadaptable risks slipping backwards in their career.
The product backlog and sprint approach
This is essentially a way of ensuring that you benefit quickly from your work and that you always work on high-priority items. If you have a list of professional development activities that are specific to you and your goals (the backlog), you can prioritize them according to your current environment, then choose one or two to work on during a set period (the sprint).
A product backlog for a project management professional could look something like this:
User stories can be useful to managers who need to discuss professional development with their team and discover what is important to them on an individual level. User stories can generally be expressed in a single sentence.
“As a [CUSTOMER or USER], I want [FUNCTION of FEATURE] so that I can [VALUE or BENEFIT].”
A simple developmental example could be:
“As a new member of the marketing team, I want training in web-based advertising so that I can work on the exciting ad-campaign that starts next quarter.”
User stories should be short and easy to resolve. When used correctly, they can easily become part of a product backlog and sprint approach. This means that agile professional development can be implemented both by an individual and, where appropriate, by their manager in complementary ways.
We have the flexibility to design our own lives, so don’t let your job define the life you lead. Instead, take an agile approach and keep developing until your life choices have defined your career.
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