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Agile development planning

Why agile thinking is becoming a must for career development.

5 min read


Agile steps

Agile is the name of the game when it comes to everything in business today. From project management to production. From strategy to service. The ability to remain flexible and respond nimbly to fast-changing conditions is vital to an organization’s success.

The same holds true for individuals. Navigating successful careers and development today demands an agile approach as well.

Information by Julie Winkle Giulioni

Agile development planning yields a living, breathing tool that guides employees toward making development a daily part of their lives. And, it offers leaders the information they need to offer regular support, guidance, feedback, reinforcement and recognition.

While the form of the plan matters less than the substance of it – and the conversation behind it – you may find this planning template a helpful starting point for capturing ideas and guiding a rich development dialogue. Here are the steps for making it happen.

Step 1: Identify multiple goals

Yes, that “s” in “goals” was intended. The employment landscape is too dynamic to focus one’s efforts on a singular goal. 85% of all jobs that will be available in 2030 have not yet been invented, a Dell report in 2017 claimed. Conversely, everyday positions that used to be vital are being taken out of service. Keeping the door open to multiple possibilities offers the greatest sense that you’ll be prepared and have multiple options for contributing within the workplace.

Additionally, given the fickle nature of jobs themselves, goals should focus less on what people might want to ‘be’ and more on what they want to do. The latter is considerably more opportunity-filled than the former because competence is the new currency in our evolving workplace.

Step 2: Generate possible actions to pursue each goal

Agile development is all about flexibility, options and the ability to quickly pivot to take advantage of changing conditions. So; similar to generating multiple goals, you’ll want to generate multiple possible actions. Get creative. Don’t rely exclusively upon formal training, workshops and webinars. They represent a drop in the ocean of development actions. Consider job shadowing, coaching, mentoring, opportunities for greater visibility, experience-based learning via special projects and stretch assignments. Incorporate actions that:

  • Involve others; but make sure you also include plenty that you can do on your own.
  • Require some time to complete; but make sure you also include shorter, quick-hit activities that you can fit between and among other work assignments.
  • Stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone; but make sure to also identify ways to leverage your strengths and build confidence and momentum.

Step 3: Synergize across goals and possible actions

Given the “time desert” that characterizes the typical employees’ existence today, it can be challenging to actually put development plans into place. As a result, it’s essential to leverage overlaps, find efficiencies and feed as many birds as possible with one crumb. (A less dark take on the killing of multiple birds with one stone!)

Identify where one development strategy might advance multiple goals. See where similar actions repeat themselves. And highlight these as high-impact focus areas to be explored and mined for synergistic and efficient development.

Step 4: Prioritize a few high-impact actions and determine how to move each forward

Since agile development requires routine review and recalibration, the plan doesn’t have to be a comprehensive, yearlong commitment (which, if we’re honest, in the past was filed away, not to be seen again until the next year’s “planning season.”)

In contrast, identify a few priorities to advance and get ready to iterate over time. And as you do, consider the following:

  • Realistic assessment of the time, priorities and energy for development;
  • Availability of resources (courses, mentors, experiences);
  • What’s in the leader’s and employee’s sphere of influence? What they can make happen independent of others?; and
  • What’s most interesting, exciting, appetizing? what will add energy and satisfaction to the employee’s life?

Then, document the actions, any necessary details, timelines and support required to optimize the development.

Step 5: Get ready to change the plan

Don’t fall in love with or get too attached to this document. Keep it in pencil or in edit mode. Because to be useful, it will have to change — and frequently. If it’s not marked up and a mess, it might be a plan but it’s not driving development.

Leaders and employees who engage in effective agile-development planning make a commitment to routinely reflect on how you’re doing, revisit the plan and its assumptions, and revise it based upon changing conditions, interests and opportunities. It’s this kind of mindset — and skill set — that allows development to join all other critical business functions in operating in an agile way.


Julie Winkle Giulioni works with organizations worldwide to improve performance through leadership and learning. Named one of Inc. magazine’s top 100 leadership speakers, Winkle Giulioni is the co-author of the bestseller, “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want” (the 2nd edition will be released January 2019), a respected speaker on a variety of topics and a regular contributor to many business publications.

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