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Personal Development Plans — ‘Here’s me What’

Setting SMART and Aligned Personal Development Goals….One approach.

Each year in large companies there is a time when there is an extra focus on our personal development plan goals.

I say extra focus as we have made this an arbitrary thing that we pencil into the Calendar year (and we all know software and programming languages often struggle with Calendar and Date Time!).

Is an annual plan a “waterfall” approach? Let’s have a little more Agility but we still do need to have check points on it.

So what is it we are really trying to achieve and what does a “good” plan for me look like?

This is just my own personal take on it. Other approaches might work better for you. Think Broadly.

Observations and Reflections of the types of People I have both seen and been throughout my career and as I have changed roles. I am being deliberately extreme on some of these.

1) The “Box Ticker”

2) The “Long Lister”

3) The “Lost Sheep”

4) The “Dreamer”

5) The “Neo”

1) The “Box Ticker”

As the name implies the Box Ticker is something we can all work out quickly. The Box Ticker is someone who will put down anything, if at all, into the system to keep their manager happy and “let them get back to their work”. They do not see the “required process” as being something of benefit to them. If that is you and you have got this far, thanks for reading. I have been a box ticker in the past. Please keep going.

2) The “Long Lister”

The opposite to the Box Ticker is the prepared “Long Lister”. As a prepared Long Lister you already have your Plan in place without prompting. It is completely charted out for the rest of the year with specific courses you will take and books you will read. It will cover several main areas.

I often find that a “Long Lister” likes to be able to keep track of their progress and updates the percentages complete as they go and I can see how for many that sense of progress and “marking things as done” can make them feel good.

One Observation I have on the “Long Lister” is that they often have some items they have already started and completed. They aim for areas they already have a grounding and strong interest in. They have decided their focus areas without true self-assessment or feedback from others.

3) The “Lost Sheep”

The Lost Sheep want to do the right thing but they are not really sure what they should be learning but they want to — “Help me”. This is great. Seek the help. They will have a very high level couple of Goals that are in areas they have heard people mention a lot recently. They are not sure what it is they want to gain personally from the Goals, or how it will help them over the next 3–12 months, but they sounds like what the company wants to see on their plan. The Steps to achieve these Goals are often very short.

Example: Achieve AWS Certification. Take Exam by end of 2019.

4) The “Dreamer”

As a Dreamer we live in a Utopia where everything will go to plan and we will be able to study every night at home and be able to introduce all the changes to process and technology to our products without any resistance from the team or other priorities.

We are going to obtain three certifications, get hands on exposure and experience to everything on the latest ThoughtWorks Radar. In the end you can end up “started learning” for three different things but never manage to complete any of them.

5) The Neo

I wish I could be a Neo but I am not the one. There are some out there. You can just sense your personal gaps and where the industry and product are headed and the opportunities just appear. It appears to others that you are just able to plug in the cassette tape, link it to your brain and skip the Education and Exposure stages of acquiring a capability. You are straight to Experienced.

Of course even the Neo out there does not just acquire this. They have a daily pattern that means they absorb information without it feeling like “homework”.

There is a natural passion and drive.

I am not encouraging you to take pills of any color.

So What should I be doing?

Like some of the best technical alternatives documents we create, the recommendation can sometimes be a combination of some of the options above as each will have their Pros and Cons.

Many of you will have come across the acronym SMART Goals. There are a couple of slightly different flavors if you look it up by they hold essentially the same meaning.

Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely/Time-Bound

You still need a little more guidance than that though, right?

Personal Development Plan Goals -

Rather than: “Here’s me, What?!” THINK — “So that, what?”

What capabilities will I gain if I achieve the goal I set. How will having that capability benefit me, the company and my product?

So there are several things there to consider:

Identify my Capabilities Gaps:

  1. Look back at your last official review with your manager
  2. Ask someone for constructive feedback to help
  3. Use a self assessment tool to identify gaps

What is my future career goal:

  1. Example “You would love to be a manager”, who wouldn’t, but are currently a bit away. What would help you gain some more of the capabilities for that future aspirational role. How do I get more exposure to dealing with people and helping them with their personal development.

Objectives and Measures for my role for the year:

  1. If you have not been been given clear direction for expectations of you in your role ask for them
  2. Here are some example we have that you might currently struggle to meet. (Total Cost of ownership, Knowledge sharing beyond your team, Providing Constructive Feedback.)

What is the strategic direction for Company/Work Unit/Product?

  1. Do your work unit have a medium to long term vision from a Business perspective
  2. Does your work unit have a clear vision for technical direction. If you are unsure ask your technical lead.
  3. Each Product or Project area should have a RoadMap and Vision for the Business and Technology. Understand what you customer wants in the future 6–12 months. Understand where your architecture team are taking your space. What is the target for your Product in Q4 and into 2020?
  4. Are you ready not only to keep up but to get ahead and influence in these areas?

What is the Industry Trend?

  1. What is happening in industry and what are our competitors doing? Knowing this can help you to be a driver and influence of new ideas.

How do I plan to achieve the Aligned Goals I have now identified?

This list is simply some ways that you can go about achieving the necessary Education, Exposure and Experience.

  • Self-Study Group / Innovation Time — Form or join an interest group. Speak to your Scrum Master and Product Owner about allocated time to help with this.
  • Community of Practice — Running or being part of a CoP can help you gain education and exposure to a particular area.
  • Share your own Experiences — via your own Blog, Presentation or Talks
  • Hackathons — Our company run a number of these each year at different levels and with different formats. Look out for them and attend, or why not look to organise one for your team?
  • Learning and Development Offerings In-house — Training Courses and Workshops internally are tailored for our asks.
  • Internal Postings — Many companies will internally post open positions that you can apply for to get new team or role experience
  • Influence Change in your Team/Product — Before wanting to move to get opportunity ensure that you are first considering and influencing change in your current team!

I am not listing a final example here of a good plan but hopefully this helps you to think about your current approach and ways in which you can make your plan a little more agile and SMART, while selecting from the Goals that are properly aligned.

Happy to have a discussion with anyone with questions or alternative approaches that have worked for them.


Rather than: “Here’s me, What?!”


“So that, what?”

(Note: “Here’s me, What?” is a common local expression in Belfast, Northern Ireland.)



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