Developing Your Skills in 2016

You’ve probably heard that it takes 10,000 hours to master something. That notion, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, isn’t quite accurate—Gladwell has a tendency to oversimplify the science—but it’s certainly true that getting good at something takes time and intentionality.

A couple years ago, I dove head first into the literature on practice and skill development. I wanted to learn everything I could about how people become good at things. In part, this was to improve some of my own skills, especially mountain biking, guitar, and singing, but I also wanted to apply what I learned to my training and coaching, so my students would learn more in less time.

Since then, we’ve built skills trees for the Scrum roles and for practices like Behavior Driven Development, visualizing what skills people need to perform at different levels of proficiency and how the skills build on each other. We’ve changed our classes to focus more on skill development, not just talking about things but learning to do them. We’re seeing remarkable results from this change: Product Owners are creating better backlogs that clearly articulate value and focus, ScrumMasters are becoming better at visualizing progress and impediments and facilitating team collaboration, developers and testers are getting really good at finding small slices of value and building them to a high level of quality. Our clients aren’t just talking about Agile, they’re living it!

I like that the “10,000 hours” idea has made people think about skill development as something that doesn’t just happen magically, but at the same time, I’ve seen it produce a fatalism, “It’s going to take 8–10 years to get good at what I do. There’s nothing I can do about it today.”

This is where I’ve been inspired by the work of Tim Ferriss and Josh Kaufman. These guys are doing for skill development what we do for product ownership—they’re helping people find the high-value slices to get big wins quickly. Kaufman’s book The First 20 Hours is a delightful exploration of how you can become functional with a new skill in 20 hours. He describes an approach to accelerated adult learning and then demonstrates it as he learns six new skills in 20 hours each. Ferriss’ The Four Hour Chef takes a similar approach but focuses on developing cooking skills as the core example.

We want 2016 to be the year you and your team see dramatic growth in your skills and your results. You don’t need to wait for 10,000 hours. But you also can’t just expect skill development to happen magically. It’s going to take focused training, coaching, and practice. The year’s almost half over—what are you planning to do to grow in the next 7 months?

Here are just a few examples…

  1. Does it feel like your team has plateaued? Like you’re just going through the motions with Scrum? Our Agile for Teams course works really well with teams who’ve been practicing Scrum on their own for a while. Rather than an intro, it ends up functioning as a self-assessment. You get a refresher on the Agile mindset and what being Agile really looks like, and then you have an opportunity to reflect together in a structured way to identify the changes that will have the biggest impact on your work. And then with our expert follow-up coaching, you get help putting those changes into practice. Here’s what one client said about this:

    Even though our Scrum teams have been working together for over 2 years, the team training with Richard Lawrence was a highly effective approach to building a solid foundation for healthy, self-managing and self-directed behaviors. Once that team foundation is built, coaching becomes a way to further “inspect and adapt” and continuously improve. (Pam Fox, Bridgepoint Education)

  2. Are you drowning in a product backlog with hundreds of stories that will never actually make it into a sprint? (We sometimes refer to this sort of backlog as, “the place where dreams go to die.”) Do your backlog grooming sessions drive team members to despair? Consider one of our Certified Scrum Product Owner courses or our 80/20 Product Ownership online course.There are so many skills a Product Owner needs to do the job well—they’re not going to grow on their own.
  3. Feel like you have the basics down but want some advanced skill development? Plan to attend our Humanizing Work advanced training event in July. Every participant has been in one of our introductory classes, so the sessions at Humanizing Work can assume a common language and foundation of knowledge and go straight to the good stuff. Eric Engelmann, CEO of Geonetric, one of the most Agile companies on earth, has described it as, “The most valuable 3 days of any conference I’ve ever attended.”

These are just a few examples of how you might grow your skills in 2016. We’d like to work with you to craft your 2016 skill development plan (individual, team, or org). Contact us with some of the results you’d like to see this year, and we’ll suggest the combination of training, coaching, and practice that will help you achieve your goals. Lots of people wish they could get better—be one of the few who actually take concrete steps to move forward.

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Richard Lawrence

Is co-owner of Agile For All. He trains and coaches people to collaborate more effectively with other people to solve complex, meaningful problems. He draws on a diverse background in software development, engineering, anthropology, and political science. Richard is a Scrum Alliance Certified Enterprise Coach and Certified Scrum Trainer, as well as a certified trainer of the accelerated learning method, Training from the Back of the Room. His book, Behavior-Driven Development with Cucumber, was published by Addison-Wesley in 2019 (for more information, visit bddwithcucumber.com).

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