Monday, December 31, 2012

The New Year retrospective

If you are like most people in the world, as the clock ticks down to 12 on 31st December, you are probably preparing a couple of New Years Resolutions.

This in itself is no bad thing – we should be aiming to improve ourselves and what we can achieve each year.

Some of these resolutions will be about our fitness (especially post-Christmas), some will be about our personal life, and some our work life.

I like to thing really any resolution is about really wanting to address an area in life we feel we're not doing so well in. In order to do that we have to use the time coming up to 2013 looking back on the year.

We held a few retrospectives at work in 2012, and I found them overall positive experiences. We looked at the “positives” or what we'd done well, and also the “deltas” areas we need to improve in (notice we don't call them negatives, we are trying to positively look at changes we can make).

In the same way we need to look for those areas of change in our life, and decide to do practical ways that we can make change.

Back in March in the SoftwareMinefield, I was talking about people's resolutions, especially when it came to learning (a key subject in the book), and suggested whether in learning or elsewhere, the best kind of resolution was a SMART resolution …

Learning like diets is one of those things we often attempt to resolve to do more of. So like our New Year diets often involve "only eating salad and soup until Easter", our learning plans often go down the same "too ambitious" route ... "I'm going to read a book on software each week". Good luck on that!

Like any good plan, you need to have objectives, and they need to be SMART objectives. My version of SMART here being Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound.
  • Specific - what do you really want to learn about? Testing in general? Test automation? Agile testing? What channels are you expecting to use? Courses, books, magazines, forums, Twitter?
  • Measurable - how will you know if you've made progress? This one is tricky when it comes to learning, as short of "taking a test", it's difficult to do. But it's important that you feel you're making some form of progress. It might simply be that you find yourself reading articles regarding a topic, and finding yourself more comfortable with the arguments than a year ago.
  • Achievable - is it possible to achieve your learning goal with the resources you have? Do you need more to achieve your goal? If you are planning to read a specific book, do you own a copy yet, or can get it from the library? If you are trying to learn about a certain technology, can you get hold of a sample of the application to aid your study?
  • Realistic - as I've said, it's got to be realistic. Your friend John might be able to give up 2 hours every night for study, but you have family commitments, and you can't match that. What can you realistically commit? An hour a week? An hour a month? Be wary of making a rash overcommitment, but also make sure you are actually putting the time in.
  • Time-bound - you need to revisit your aims and objectives. Set yourself a realistic time-scale to achieve in, and re-review what you've achieved and your future direction after so long. You set yourself to learn about Test Automation, but after 6 months found yourself reading more about Exploratory Testing. Should you go back to trying to study about Test Automation, or continue with Exploratory Testing? Remember they're your goals, but if your aim was to learn more automation due to a drive at work in the field, maybe trying to refocus on Test Automation is something you need to do ...

So before you start making a resolution in the New Year countdown, ask yourself, how can it push you, and yet be sufficiently sustainable, so that you're not embarrassed come April when people ask you “well how did that work out for you?”.

Last year I famously talked in my New Year about “why Superman must die”, meaning to be effective at work I knew I needed to gauge my limits and know when I really needed to stop myself from trying to help someone, simply because I was taking on too much. It was a post which continuously challenged me, and I have to admit it I don't think I always got it right on that score.

I was much encouraged by emails from my friend Bernice Ruhland on the subject, but also by a wonderful talk by Johanna Rothman on “when to say yes, and when to say no”, which so moved me it led me to get in contact with her and thank for for it.

Yes 2012 has been an emotional journey at times, but I've built up some great friendships to see me through the rough parts ...


  1. Michael, this is very helpful to me, thanks. My brother set up a website called 'talkYork' (he lives in York) & I have offered to help him out by writing a weekly blog on the history of York (haven't chosen my topic yet) in the sixteenth century. I'm a bit apprehensive as I've told him I'll do it. Breaking the research work down into these measurable chunks that you suggest will help me a great deal as I'm not so good at research...or haven't been in the past. Thanks, Lucy Lee :-)

    1. Hey Lucy - great to hear. Yes I did love York, a very old city for sure, loved walking along what's left of the wall.

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  3. If you are like most people in the world, as the clock ticks down to 12 on 31st December, you are probably preparing a couple of New Years Resolutions.