11 Steps to Revolutionize Your Career

Ever wished you knew the key to getting to the next level, enjoying your job more, or just earning the raise you deserve?  That’s what this post is all about!

11 Steps to Revolutionize Your Career, Unlock Creativity, and Prioritize Your Professional Growth & Learning Roadmap

GREAT NEWS – the same techniques used to rejuvenate enterprises and drive strategic agility can help you to improve your position in your organization, your satisfaction at work, and the career path ahead of you.  I’ll show you step-by-step how to build a prioritized roadmap for professional growth and learning, as well as the science behind the art.  This is most exciting as a group experience – with a circle of friends who share your interests.  Don’t underestimate the power of a guild! Post-It Notes and group goals can be far more effective than going it alone.  Find your love, lead a tribe!  

The overarching idea is that you need to increase how much value you add to the process, the product, and the customer (if different, via the users).

I know “maximizing total stream economic value-add” sounds ivory-tower and too academic to matter to your daily life.  It’s true, no one doing real work talks like that. In practice, it means “time well-spent fixing a pain your customer feels.”  The more you directly relieve pain, the better!  That’s why the customer pays your company and your company pays you.  More pain-killing, better company.  You want to be as irreplaceable in that relationship as possible.

Documentation does not help the pain of the customer.  Budget planning or release plans don’t make a crappy user interface more intuitive.  Even if you literally Your deliverables are not your job.  Your ability to alleviate more pain for the customer than it costs the company to pay you – that is your “job”.  In entrepreneurial lingo – the strengthening the sustainability of your salary-for-value exchange is your only job.  The title, the process and your deliverables are all derivative.  Once you see it that way, improvements to your output, your process, and your skill set are all part of one “roadmap” that keeps your salary potential growing rather than stagnating. 

Let’s take it step-by-step.  Reach out if you have a question!

1 – Narrow your focus

To start, identify the most important information or resource that you handle.  Every role centers around one “wildly important thing” that needs to be accomplished by someone who can combine information and resources with professional knowledge and tools in order to create something new.  As an accountant, role centers around knowledge of the flow of cash and others constructs that can become cash.  The expert knowledge of the law, best practices, and tailoring the visibility of a company’s slice-of-time or in-flow cash is not only a full-time job, it can take an entire team.  If you are a software developer, you combine a problem assumption with your knowledge of code to create software that solves the problem.  As a Product Owner, you prioritize the flow of information to ensure problem-solution feedback loop is as tight as possible. 

2 – Get real about your value add

The way in which you add value in your one “wildly important thing” is a workflow.  It has an input, time in progress, and an output.  The five basic phases of any process as defined by Steven Borg are:

  1. Queue – Understand what to do 
  2. Setup – Get the necessary “resources” ready
  3. Run – Complete the goal
  4. Wait – Look for feedback on success/failure
  5. Move – Find the next goal to accomplish 

The “run” phase is the activity most companies call “performance” and likely that activity is the only thing they would want to pay for you to improve.  That said, we all know that the “run” portion of our week is only 10% to 20% of our time in the office.  Embrace that hard truth here – your role is a creative process and you have to fight for your creativity.  Make the entire process visible, not just the old-school boss-whipping performance dogma that resulted in Ford laying off 20,000 people in one day.

Be honest with yourself, be heretical, be brave.  As you map your workflow, you want to very objectively understand how much of your time is fluff due to the inherent inefficiency of information flow in society and your organization.

2 – Map “The Steps”

When I first learned about value stream mapping, I didn’t get it.  In fact the first several times I learned about it I wasn’t sure if I was missing something or if it was really as simple as it seemed on the surface.  Great news!  It really is incredibly simple and superficial.  It just takes a level of paying attention to mundane details we take for granted that most people just don’t take the time to do it.  Maybe quantifying how much of their job isn’t the “run phase” causes fear for their job security.  Unfortunately, companies full of people who love their work and don’t tolerate bullshit are taking down companies full of unthinking zombies every day.  Your job is not “safe” anymore.  Make yourself irreplaceable doing what you love.

Here’s what to do as you map the steps – somewhere between your job description and the “wildly important thing” you get challenged to do, you have established a routine of behaviors.  List out the steps. 

That’s it.

That’s “mapping a value stream”.  I told you it was simple.  The one difference between a to-do list and a value stream map is tacking on what you do to add value (relieving pain for a customer, right?).  For fun, write at the top of your whiteboard “The {your role} Way” – a proud tip of the hat to “The Toyota Way” that has inspired so much of Lean thinking.

3 – Map “The People”

Once you have listed out the steps you follow to create value, list out the people involved with each step.  It is possible that a department or a team is a bit of a “black box” in your process, which you should highlight!  If you know that you need information X from Susan, that is much more efficient than depending on X from “accounts payable”. 

Don’t skip this step!

4 – Map “The Time”

Go back through the steps and identify (even on average) the real minutes on the clock you spend on each step, then the calendar time waiting between each step.  If you’ve never taken the time to do this, you may find this analysis fairly emotional.  It isn’t comfortable to put on paper that you spend 5% of your time doing something meaningful and 95% of your time waiting and struggling to get “the system” to get out of your way so you can do your 5% and then go home or watch YouTube or whatever.  Do it anyway.  This isn’t about them, this is about you and how you can grow so that more of your time is more meaningful to you in your pursuit of mastery, autonomy, and purpose.  Our goal here is map out the business case for ways in which you can spend less time chasing that 95% or more time engaged in your 5%.

Caution – It’s tempting to run off and try to solve things or make a wish list or start blaming people for your problems, because time is a precious resource and “solutioning” ways reclaim your time is extremely rewarding.  DON’T.  That’s not the point of this exercise and it will ruin your reputation and you’ll miss the goal of this effort completely. 

This workshop is about how you can grow, learn, and enjoy your work more no matter what anyone else does.

5 – Take a deep breath

No really.  Take a break and relax.  You need to approach this calmly, logically, and thoroughly.

6 – Identify sources of waste

You already started this process while you mapped your value stream, but you need to go through step by step and really evaluate several things.  For one, look inward.  Which tasks do hate?  Which ones do you love?  When you feel disengaged, why?  Removing wait times and reducing task times would be nice, but the greatest source of inefficiency in your work is usually your own lack of focus or ability to “ramp up” your motivation.  Mastery requires pride in the mundane.  10,000 hours of scales as a violinist or guitarist; 10,000 hours of free-throws as a basketball player.  If your job includes something it is absolutely essential to your career and you hate it, that’s a symptom that you can grow in that area.

Now, let’s go through this very purposefully and objectively.  For every step, check if you have one or more of these sources of waste, then list it out.  Waste is anything that “adds no value” in your workflow or lessens the value that you add to the process.  Occasionally, you might even find you are, despite the best of intentions, reducing the value of information or resources.  Between us, that’s okay – there is immense wasted energy all around you.  You will be much more powerful by understanding yours.

Here are the types of evil, horrible waste you already don’t love:

  1. Waiting for input (information or resources)
  2. Over-production (doing something or making something no one used)
  3. Rejects or Defects (doing the wrong thing, or doing the thing wrong)
  4. Motion (unnecessary movement, like manually turning a Word doc into an Excel spreadsheet every week)
  5. Over-Processing (anything you do in which you “reinvent the wheel” each time)
  6. Inventory (any pile of information or resources, before or after you add value, that sits untouched for any period of time)
  7. Transport (time spent moving something of value – if it isn’t instant, why not?)

The other take-away you want to gain – for purposes of learning, growth, and personal development of mastery – is a list of any instance of miscommunication or misunderstanding, especially if there is any time when the format in which you receive information is difficult to understand without time spent interpreting it or asking for feedback.  Likewise, how much of your time is spent clarifying what what you provide to someone else?  That’s an opportunity for growth.

ONE MORE major thing to look for:

Waste of Talent or Other Scarce Resources (like your precious time) – Be honest with yourself and others (circle of trust) with this one.  When do you feel like your intelligence is insulted?  When do feel like you’re overqualified?  When do you think people around you are disengaged or wasting their real potential?  We need to find what we can do about those moments.

7 – WooHoo!!  Solve All Your Problems!!

My mentor in the App Roadmap Workshop, a variation of this process focused on enterprise mobility, always loved to say “’Magic happens here’ is okay.”  Of course, for that audience, talking about mobile, that meant “technology too advanced (or difficult for your company to implement) to assume it can be achieved now”.  When it comes to personal growth and development, you need to have the same optimistic view of all the options before the cold reality of life hits you as you struggle to learn.  Don’t prematurely rule out any resolution to any problem at this stage, because you’ll want to come back to this every three months and by then, all kinds of things – your role, your abilities, the tools available – may have changed.  For most of us, we need to just say “’future-me’ will sort out the details”.  That’s what we all do when we make bad decisions, let’s apply that same courage while making some really good decisions.

Go through each step, and every issue or waste you found.  Then do your best to identify something you could personally do differently change the inefficiency.  If people fail to provide adequate information, could you provide them a template?  Is there anything you can automate?  When you look at the situations where the most misunderstandings occur, is there anything you can learn to bridge the gap between your specialty and that other person’s?  Could you succeed more by setting better expectations? 

Put together all these opportunities.  Hopefully there are several.  I personally have more ways I could try to grow than I have time to invest in myself, but I’ve been building out this backlog for awhile and learning has a funny habit of unlocking awesome new ideas about what to learn.  Knowing all the ways you could grow is an extremely healthy form of self-understanding. 

8 – This is about MASTERY, AUTONOMY, AND PURPOSE

Mastery requires pride in the mundane and a deliberate effort to understand the periphery of your specialization.  If you are a Product Owner in a large enterprise, this could be technical training, UX or UI creation, business case building, customer interviews, or a host of other leadership, sales, marketing, development, or other capabilities.  Don’t be afraid to try new things.  Don’t be scared when your plan to try new things turns into a slap in the face about how hard it is to learn those things.  Now is a great time to decide how tenacious and dedicated to your personal development you are.

9 – Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize

In Lean, we know that the amount invested in a system from one day to the next is relatively stable.  Because of this, prioritizing investment of time and effort should work to reduce the cost of delaying action.  In software, this means comparing opportunity cost of two features.  If you can only integrate Twitter sharing or Facebook sharing, which one is less urgent?  Invest in the most urgent need first.  There are a number of ways Calculate the Cost of Delay for the changes you want to make, but we will customize this for your personal learning and professional development roadmap.

This is a variation of Weighted Shortest Job First which you can find at www.scaledagileframework.com/wsjf

Line up all the solutions to your problems you came up with in a list.  If you can put this into a spreadsheet, that might be handy for the purposes of staying neat, but post it notes work fine as well (and are better in a group).  This is your formula:

(Potential to Increase your Value Added + Time Sensitivity + Career Opportunity)  / Time Investment

You’ll add each of those as columns in your table.  To give an example, let’s compare two learning goals that you believe will improve the value you add in your role:

  1. Complete the entire iOS course on iTunes U
  2. Watch a GOTO Conference presentation video on Continuous Integration

Both options are money-free free, but each will consume your most precious resource: time.  We want to relatively score both of these options using each variable in the formula above.

You begin by choosing the lowest score and the highest score.  In a group, this is done typically with a predefined fibonacci (this is a useful number set primarily because it makes equal WSJF scores unlikely. Since there are only two items we are considering, we can just score with 1 and 5.

Let’s say, as a Product Owner, that although iOS products could be in your future, the company right now is making a push toward Continuous Delivery as a major lean process initiative.  Clearly, the additional value you can expect to add after the iOS course scores a 1, while the value of knowing what people mean when they voice pains in their Continuous Delivery initiative is the 5.  Remember, this isn’t about what could be the most valuable thing ever, this is about prioritizing your continuous investment in yourself.

Time Sensitivity, do the same.  It’s another clear win for an hour YouTube video. 

Career Opportunity – Maybe knowing how to code in Objective-C give you better prospects in your career.  Give the Continuous Delivery video a 1 this time.

Time Investment – the testing ground of every great idea.  It will take you several days of ongoing effort to make it through that entire iTunes U course on iOS development, especially if you really take notes, do the exercises, and learn to actually code.  The YouTube video and a follow-up conversation with someone you trust, plus a blog post about what you learned?  Let’s 4hrs.  At the end of the day though, you don’t need an actual estimate of the time you’ll spend, you just need to know what’s bigger and smaller relative to your most important options.

Now we can score!  I’ll send you an example of my own current learning goals.  Just contact me.

  1. Complete the entire iOS course on iTunes U (1+1+5)/5 = 2.4 #FAIL
  2. Watch a GOTO Conference video on Continuous Integration (5+5+1)/1 = 7 #WINNING

10 – The highest score wins. 

If you have several items, you order them from highest score to lowest.  Go watch that video and write about what you learn!  Your time is a river, keep repeating this process so that it flows beautifully and the water of insight and innovation is always fresh!

11 – Final Step: Tell people about it.

Learning is more difficult in a vacuum, because the occasional plateaus and time in the trough of disillusionment make it easy to quit once you find out how hard a new skill is.  That’s why you want an accountability partner, mentor, or community of practice leader who you trust for bouncing ideas, sharing goals, and tracking your insights.

BONUS SUDDEN DEATH ROUND

Just kidding, no sudden deaths here.  The bonus take-away from Lean that I’ll give you is the challenge to move from old ideas of quality – “no one complained about a problem” – to the idea of TOTAL QUALITY.  What if everything in your product solved pain for the user?  What if everyone involved added value to solving the user’s pain?  Quality isn’t “less than 1% crash rate”.  Quality is “I gave the right thing to solve pains, at the right time, and it changed someones life quickly and easily because their was no filler, fluff, or distractions.”

ENJOY!

 

Featured image via Liane Metzler

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