During this time of year, you may be finishing up tasks and projects for the year, working on strategies for the next year, and setting up new goals. However, before moving too far into the future, it's good practice to reflect on this past year.
Your organization might already have an official year-end review process in place, but this is a different exercise. Encourage your team to ask self-guided career-related questions before going on holiday. Reflecting on our successes and challenges can give us insights into what's working or not working, what improvements or changes we can make, and what priorities we can set for ourselves professionally going forward. It can also remind us why we are in the career we're in and serve as a way to re-motivate us to keep going!
We've collected a few questions within five different categories. Feel free to pass this article to each of your team members and ask them to dedicate some time to think about their answers. These answers don't need to be submitted to anyone- this is more about self-reflection. Plus, by allowing your team to answer these questions on their own without a manager reading them, they're likely to be more open and honest with their answers.
1. IMPACT & ACCOMPLISHMENTS
What were your proudest accomplishments?
Think about your biggest projects during each quarter of the year, and try to name at least one accomplishment from each quarter that you're proud of. For example, did you launch a project that has been in the works for a long time? Or complete a goal or a Rock that took a lot of planning and coordination? Maybe it wasn't the project or Rock itself, but the way you handled a challenge that came up. Perhaps you saw a commitment through to the end, even when you wanted to give up. Maybe you produced good work even though something challenging was happening in your personal life. It all counts!
What were your favorite work-related experiences this year?
For this question, consider a favorite project you worked on or an experience with your team that really impacted you. For example, did you go to a conference or give a presentation? Did you participate in any Team Culture-related events or activities? Did you contribute to an Open Source project? Did a project flow and work out, seemingly magically, without many hiccups? (Put that one at the top of the list!)
What were your worst work-related experiences this year?
Now think about experiences you'd classify as your least favorite experience this year. Was there a project that was a complete disaster? Was there a team dynamic that you struggled through? Was there a type of work you were assigned that you'd rather not repeat? Try to see if there are any patterns from some of these experiences.
What's one thing you didn't achieve in the last 12 months? Would you do anything to change the outcome? If so, how?
Maybe there was something you didn't achieve this year that you wanted to. That's pretty common. The needs of the business or clients change throughout the year, and not every single project or idea we have can be finished in our ideal timeline. We can't change the past, but if you COULD, what would you do differently to complete this task or project? Would you shift priorities? Delegate? Hire help? Give yourself a wider deadline? If it's still important to you, fret not! You can add it to your goals or projects for this coming year.
2. LEARNING & RISK-TAKING
When did you try something new, and what did you learn?
New experiences can be both exciting and challenging. You may have gained a new skillset or furthered your knowledge in an area by taking on a new project. You may have worked on something that required you to think outside the box, so you learned a new gem or coding language. Maybe you changed the frequency or structure of a meeting. Perhaps you changed the way you wrote up your Jira tickets or how you hired new Ruby on Rails developers. Make notes of what you learned during each of these experiences.
When did you face a challenge, and what happened?
Working through a challenge gives us an opportunity for growth. So even though it might be daunting at the time, if we can look back and reflect on a challenge, we can gain valuable insight into how we handle work-related challenges and what we might improve on next year. For example, did you take on a challenging project or client? Was there a complication during a project that caused it to stall? Were there budget cuts or changes in your business structure? Think of unexpected challenges this year and write down how you handled them.
Give an example of a failure this year, and what did you learn?
Not everything is a win, and that can be tough to accept. The important thing is that we learn from failures. We can also try to turn it into a success or redefine what winning means. Can you think of a failure this year that impacted your role, department, or organization? What did you learn from this experience to help you in the future?
3. PERSONAL & PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
What do you want to do more/less of in the coming year?
Now that you've reflected on some of your experiences from this last year, think about what you'd like to do in the future. What type of work or projects do you enjoy? What would you like to do more or less of? Who would you like to work with more often? Would you like to finally upgrade your Ruby on Rails application to a newer version? Would you like to refactor how your Rails app integrates with Stripe to support additional payment gateways? Would you like to learn more about what "Observability" means? Would you like to listen to new-to-you podcasts about software development? Would you like to start blogging again? Speak at conferences? Participate more in a specific type of industry? Or contribute to an Open Source project?
Are you satisfied with your role?
Be honest with yourself here because we can get stuck in a comfort zone or too afraid to acknowledge if we're not truly fulfilled in a role. Instead, consider all aspects of your job to determine if you're still in a great place or if you might want to look into new opportunities- especially if you've identified work you'd like to do more of and your current role doesn't allow for that. Do you engage well with your current team? Is your work both challenging and fulfilling? Do you feel like you're making an impact in your organization? Do you feel your voice is heard? Do you feel your professional aspirations are respected and honored? Is there room for professional growth? Write down anything that comes to mind.
What elements of your job in the last 12 months made it successful?
What worked for you last year? Were there any changes implemented that made your job easier or more enjoyable? Were you given access to a set of tools that helped you? Did your team work well together in accomplishing all your projects this year? Was your Project Manager or Engineering Manager a huge part of your success this year? Think carefully about what helped you so that you can invest more time and energy in these aspects in the coming year.
What elements of your job in the last 12 months hindered success?
This question might be a little easier to answer because we're quick to point out when and where something goes sideways. But, objectively speaking, what elements of your job were major blockers for you? Did you have a need that wasn't met, like an unresponsive manager? Or an unresponsive client? Is your tool stack outdated? Is your organization short-staffed? Were there a lot of internal changes that made it difficult to meet goals or deadlines? Now's the time to get it all out!
What skill, talent, or pursuits would you like to develop or attain in the next 12 months?
Based on your experiences this year, consider your interests and skills that can add value to your role. For example, did you touch on a specific development server or library you'd like to learn more about? Would you like to level up your Full Stack Development skills? Would you like to work more on APIs or learn how to speed up your automated test suite? Perhaps you'd like to introduce Cypress into your testing toolbox?? Maybe there's a class or certification you'd like to take. Or perhaps you'd like to delve more into offering presentations, webinars, or marketing initiatives. Make a list of ideas, even if you don't know how to complete them in a year. You can filter these items later.
4. PEOPLE & RELATIONSHIPS
Who do you love working with? And what do you enjoy most about working with these individuals?
Think about people directly on your team and other people in your organization. Why do you enjoy your projects or intersections with these individuals? Can you identify certain traits or values that stand out to you? For example, maybe you enjoy working with them because they're delightful, personable, dependable, skilled, or fast at completing tasks. Make a note of everything you can think of.
Who are the most important people in your network, and how effectively are you building and maintaining relationships?
Now you might consider thinking outside of your direct organization. Do you have a mentor or someone you go to for questions or advice? Do you have peers who work in other companies who share contacts or knowledge with you? Do you have clients who are like dreams to work with? These are relationships that should be nurtured and valued. Make sure if they're adding value to your organization, you're offering the same.
Would you like to build relationships with other professionals?
If you've identified areas you'd like to focus more on next year, maybe you're also inspired to connect with professionals who already know more about those subjects. What field are these professionals in? Do you know of any who are currently in your network? Do you have a way to contact them? Are there others you don't have contact information for but would like to find a way to? Maybe someone in your network already knows them. Linkedin might be a great place to find out. At the core, it's all about building relationships with people who share your interests and expanding your professional circle.
Are you fulfilled and energized?
Does your job energize you every day or only sometimes? Or only certain aspects? On the flip side, can you identify tasks or factors that drain you? At the end of the day, do you usually feel like you've made progress and an impact? Or do you feel like you're just turning your wheels without much change?
If you knew you couldn't fail, what's something you want to achieve in the next 12 months?
Assuming all works out in your favor and nothing could go wrong (knock on wood), what would you want to accomplish next year? This could be something you've put off for a long time, something you've recently discovered is important to you, or a goal that really stretches you to a new level. If there were no limitations, what experiences, skills, activities, and responsibilities would you like to have in the future?
New Year, New You!
Once you've taken the time to go through your end-of-year career reflection, you might have identified some actionable items. Make a list of these tasks and use them to help you set your goals or Rocks for the new year. It's not exactly like a New Years' Resolution, but deciding to make changes is a big part of this process.