Using Professional Projects to Pursue Personal Goals

It’s probably obvious that working on a project is inherently “professional development”. You use some of what you know to better understand things you don’t, and you work towards delivering what you set out to do. However, it can be hard to make room for pursuing personal goals and learning something new when you’re on a project. That’s especially true if it feels like it’d be at the expense of efficiency or speed.

Establishing Team Norms & Personal Goals

At Atomic, one kind of meeting we like to have as we kick off projects internally is to establish team norms. I won’t get into the details of that as it’s been written about for Spin before. But, in a nutshell, it’s a way for everyone on the team to align on schedules, needs, roles, tools, and so on, so that the team can come to an understanding early in the project.

One practice I like to make a part of the team norms meeting is to establish personal goals for the project. There’s always a set of shared goals on a project (success for the client, delivering work on time, etc.). However, we don’t always communicate what we, as members of a project team, want to accomplish on a personal level.

What I’ve found helps weave my own goals into my project work is communicating them to my team. This allows me to strategize with everyone on what they can do to support me, and how I can work on my goals in a way that benefits the project. It also helps establish the way we’ll run the project that enables the pursuit of personal goals.

Communicating Personal Goals to the Team

This goes for the entire team. When everyone knows what everyone else is trying to accomplish, it’s much easier to accommodate each other. For example, say I’m trying to better understand how user experience (UX) design can serve users while working on a web app. Discussing that with the team’s designer can open doors to participate in design sessions, user interviews, and more. In turn, that helps me work on my personal goal, all the while enabling me to do better work on the project as a developer.

One specific practice a team of mine is doing now is to have a shared document of our goals for the project as well as lists of what we think the other team members can do to enable us to work on them. This encourages us to be specific because we have to write them down in a way that’s easy for everyone to interpret. It also gives us something to reference as the project goes along, ensuring that a discussion from the beginning of the project is still accessible to us no matter how long ago that may have been.

Getting it Right from the Start

It’s a bit more effort to do all of this as you start a project or get a team together for the first time. But, the payoff definitely makes it worthwhile. I’ve found that in doing so, it’s become easier to treat my work as a way to find success not just for clients, but also for myself and my team.