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  • Writer's pictureMax Linkoff

An Incremental Approach to Career Development

Updated: Dec 3, 2019

Taking an iterative approach to career development using Agile software development principles and a Growth Change Canvas

“We need to be more Agile.”

This was a phrase I heard from many executives during my time as a consultant.

Often it was in response to the rapid pace at which the technology landscape was changing. Fortune 500 companies needed a solution for getting their software products and features to their clients more quickly. Operating in a Waterfall software development methodology, where software development teams could spend up to a year designing, coding, and testing something for their clients, was becoming a thing of the past. Large organizations faced a dilemma - get your products to your customers quickly or risk falling behind in the marketplace to niche startups that could pivot easily to meet customer demands.

It takes a massive shift across an organization’s people, process, and technology to change the way a company delivers its software products and features. During my time with Deloitte, this space became my bread and butter - helping large technology organizations through Agile transformations. Together we transformed the way their teams thought about the design and delivery of their software products in the digital world.

Agile software principles (which include Scrum, Lean, Kanban, Six Sigma, and other methodologies) are all focused around iterative software development and code production. Instead of spending months or even a year developing a large scale solution (aka Waterfall development) like a web app for your clients, you work by creating an MVP, or Minimum Viable Product, and deliver your end result incrementally.

An MV - what? An MVP. Like LeBron James the basketball player who should win MVP this year?

Not quite.

An MVP is the smallest bit of functionality required to create a workable product. Think of an app or website that may only have a landing page and no other working functionality. By identifying the must-have features, you can create something simple and shippable to your client and start getting feedback within as little as two weeks. From there, additional features are produced incrementally in two week sprints.

Agile had its big moment in 2014 (in my perspective), when it became one of the “sexy buzzwords” you heard thrown around in the business world. When I saw HBR feature an Agile Transformation story on their cover, I knew I was involved with something relevant and right for my career. As the Agile trend gained more and more traction, Fortune 500 companies started to embrace the benefits of increased production, faster feedback cycles, and the ability to iteratively develop their products. To reap these benefits, these companies would have to go through an Agile Transformation to help their organizations transform their people, process, technology and the way they think about delivering their software products and features.

The Big Shift

The thing about Fortune 500 companies is that by nature they’re massive, complex, and have their fair share of politics. Driving change in 1000+ person organizations with a myriad of business functions does not happen overnight and needs to be tackled strategically and with the utmost planning. Over the years, I gained invaluable experience of what a broader organizational transformation looks like for a company’s people, processes, and technology — and how to drive change incrementally without completely disrupting an entire organization.

One of the biggest takeaways from these Agile transformation projects was the need for an incremental approach for driving change. No matter how successful the company had been, if they were looking to evolve with today’s fast paced marketplace, approaching it in steps allowed for a more fluid transition to an optimal way of operating.

If organizations that operated as a Ford Focus were looking to turn into a Ferrari, it wouldn’t happen overnight. Moreover, to become a Ferrari while still keeping the Ford Focus moving would require a process - one that could break down all of the changes that would be required for the organization and then selecting which ones would be selected and implemented while simultaneously causing the least disruption to the organization. Think of it as an MVP for identifying change. Tactical and incremental, this approach was perfect for organizational transformation. To become a Ferrari, an organization would need to change the wheels before even considering engine, body, and interior design.

Professional Shifts and Agile Transformation

Human beings are often not too different than large organizations when it comes to implementing changes, especially when it comes to the workplace. A professional looking to improve their leadership, productivity, emotional intelligence, communication, or comfort levels doesn’t typically take an all in Big Bang approach for driving change. There are colleagues to take into account, cross functional work to get completed, and other variables that need to be taken seriously so progress is made with minimal disruption to your surroundings.

Similar to Agile transformations, we should also take an incremental approach to driving change to our own growth areas in the workplace. To do this, I recommend using a Growth Change Canvas to identify your own personal MVC (minimum viable change), which are the smallest steps required to improve a particular development area that will drive the greatest personal growth while limiting disruption to those around you.

Identifying your MVC

A Growth Change Canvas is a tool that I created for professionals to approach career development in the same way that a large organization would approach a major change - incrementally to make success more achievable. Based on 360 degree feedback, it allows you to pinpoint your strengths and the development areas that you’d like to work on (A), identify the actions you would need to take to improve those development areas (B), and finally create an MVC for each growth area (C). By developing an MVC, you create a tactical plan of action that allows your progress to be incremental and more achievable.

Once your MVC is defined, you can then map out when these actions will take place over a 6 month vision plan (D), with defined success criteria to help dictate what “success” and “completion” mean for these actions over 1, 3, and 6 months (E).

Overtime as you move through your vision plan, you develop sustained and long lasting change to your growth areas in the workplace by slowing tackling the actions you have laid out. The exercise itself can take as little as 15 minutes if you’re completing it on your own and is an effective way to break down what you’d like to improve in the workplace and how you can make it happen over time.

*A completed Growth Change Canvas with various colored Sticky Notes. As a tip, select your top 3-5 Growth Areas and place them in the Actions to Address Growth Areas section. From there, you can list out all of the actions you would need to take in Post It Note form under that Growth Area. Once confirmed, an MVC can be created to identify the smallest changes that you can make for each development area that will drive improvement without disrupting your day to day.

Whether a Fortune 500 company or an individual hungry to grow, improving on weaknesses can be an overwhelming task, especially when thought about holistically. Regardless, working with the philosophy of an Agile Transformation and utilizing tools such as a Growth Change Canvas can make the expansion process much less daunting. By working in small steps with actionable plans, you’ll inevitably drive personal and professional growth, and you might even find the ride from Focus to Ferrari quite enjoyable.

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