The Career Development Plan Part 2

certskills
By certskills March 9, 2015 09:05

If you’re executing on building your plan along with reading this series, you should now have a good start on your career development plan. Today’s post completes the process of creating the plan by refining your list to be more specific and more measurable, making them easier to fit into your quarterly development plan schedule.

If you’ve not been reading along, don’t start here! Go back and catch up on the rest of the series:

Step 0: No Written Goals Yet? Don’t Make a Development Plan!

OK, OK, I know you may be getting sick of this reminder, but… if you’ve not set goals yet, making a development plan probably isn’t worth doing. If you agree that setting about to do something without first setting goals is a bad idea, stop now, and set some goals.

 

Recap of Part 1

The previous post – part 1 of actually creating a development plan – walked through these four steps:

  • Step 1: Pick one Goal and Create the Written Plan Document
  • Step 2: Brainstorm Possible Actions to Help You Reach Your Goal
  • Step 3: Pick Which Activities to Do, and Which Not to Do
  • Step 4: Put the Will Do Items in Calendar Order

At the end of the steps, you should have a written plan document of some kind, with some notes included. The notes should list:

  • One Goal from your goal planning session
  • Two lists of activities: the list you plan to do, and the list you set aside and won’t do
  • For the list of things that you will do, you have them listed in the order you will do them

 

Goal: Adjust Your List of Activities and Schedule Them

Today’s post starts with your list!

Open your development plan document, and look at your ordered list of activities you plan to do. By the end of this post, you will put activities from an updated version of this list into your development plan.

Before putting your activities into your schedule, it helps to make the activities more specific and more measurable. That helps you predict how much time the activity will take, and how to know when you’ve completed the activity.

For instance, consider these two activities, the first more general than the second:

  • Pass certification X
  • Read book A (about certification X)

Both activities happen to be pretty objective, but the second activity is more specific, and therefore the time required can be more easily predicted. You can estimate the time required to read a technical book based on your past experience in reading these types of books and by looking at the length of the book. However, the more general “pass certification X” includes several separate activities, so estimating the time is more difficult.

These next few pages help you improve your list to make them easier to work with in your plan. Today’s post takes three types of development activities and shows how to refine your activities into great activities to put in your plan – activities that are objective, specific, and measurable:

  1. Pass certification X
  2. Take course Y
  3. Learn technology Z

 

Pass Certification X: Taking it to the Next Level of Depth

Certifications give networkers a great way to organize their technical skills development. You pick a certification, go pass the cert, and along the way, you learn a lot of useful knowledge and build lots of useful skill. And you overcome the chicken-and-egg issue of needing to learn the topic before you can know what you should be learning about the topic: the certification defines what you should learn.

However, your plan needs more detail than “pass certification X”. Instead, break down any single goal of “pass certification X” into one level of further detail, like these:

  • Read book A (understand and connect concepts)
  • Review/study book A’s content (master the knowledge)
  • Watch video series B
  • Review/study video B’s content
  • Do lab activities about certification X (build skill vs. knowledge)
  • Answer sample questions (Find holes in your knowledge/skill)

Couple more comments before leaving this area.

First, make a list like the above for each exam required to reach a given certification.

Second, treat your review/study activity as separate from reading and as separate from lab work. Of course, all these certification study activities work well together, but for tracking your development plan, it’s important to list them separately. Why? Many people put some goal date on passing an exam, but then don’t leave time for all the important tasks, like studying what you’ve already read, and practicing in lab. If you list these as separate items on your plan, it’ll be easier to make time for these, and you’ll be more successful.

 

Don’t List “Take This Course”: Make it Better!

An objective like “take course Y” is both specific and measurable, which is good. However, it’s not the best goal for developing your career. We can do better in how we take advantage of courses, and we can start now by thinking about the specific activities to put in your development plan when you plan to take a course.

Taking a course can be very useful, and you should take advantage especially when the company is willing to pay the costs. But “Take Course Y” works poorly both as an action to be listed in your plan, and as a way to learn Taking a course and learning the material well is of course more useful. But how? Put the rest of the work related to the course in your plan.

First, ignoring the development plan for a moment, think a little more about what happens around taking a course. Think of the three months beginning with the week before the course. Often, you work a little more the week before and after the course, and get interrupted some during the course by calls and emails from work. And then we sit and listen, but often fail to take notes – not that we would have had time to review or study the notes later. Does that sound like some of the goings on around courses that you’ve taken?

To get the most out of the course, we need a different approach going into the course and coming out of the course. That approach takes more time and effort, and that approach depends in part on how much you need to learn from the course. For instance, a course experience could look a lot more like this:

Now think back to the development plan. To get the most out of a course, we need to change our think about our development plan. Taking a course isn’t something to check off a list – it’s an important step towards reaching a big goal that you’ve been visualizing. So let’s list the rest of the useful learning activities around a course so that we reach that wonderful big goal! For instance:

  • Learn about the Topics in Class Y:
  1. Attend course
  2. Take notes during course
  3. Review course notes
  4. Create and learn Quizlets (or similar) based on course
  5. Create Lab and practice topics in class in the lab

Clearly, the above list helps you learn more than simply attending the course, but it also takes more time, effort, and possibly $. So you also need to think about the depth of knowledge and skills you want to build – are you willing to invest that extra time in studying after the course, for the return of building better skills?

 

Turn Subjective Goals into SMART Goals

The activities you put into your development plan need to be both specific and measurable. For instance, look at the specific subtasks in the previous section. Certainly, you know exactly what “take course Y” means and you know exactly when you complete this task. However, for tasks like “review course notes”, it begs further questions because it isn’t as specific.

For instance, you may take a course to get the general idea about a technology, or you may take a class needing to own everything in the course. That level to which you need to learn the concepts and master the lab skills translates into the types and amount of other activities you need to put into your development plan. For instance, for a topic you need to know very well, you may want to create a lab and practice a lot; on the other end of the spectrum, maybe you really do just need to pay attention and remember the highlights of the concepts, and never touch the hands-on portions again.

So how do we take an inherently subjective task and make it more specific and more measurable? Well, one way is to put a number on the depth of knowledge or skill that you hope to achieve. You can use any scale you want to you, but I’ll show a knowledge scale and skills scale here for perspective. Both use a 5-point value, with 5 being the most knowledgeable/skilled.

First, for knowledge, I broke down the analysis based on:

  • Percentage of terms that you know
  • Level of understanding of primary topics
  • Level of understanding of secondary topics

For instance, a basic level of knowledge means that you can understand what you read; the next step is to describe it to someone else; finally, can you describe it and also answer questions about it. The following table shows the numeric knowledge levels.

Knowledge Levels: An Example Method to Quantify Skill

Level Terms Primary Topics Secondary Topics
1 Top 10% Understand when reading No knowledge
2 Top 40% Describe from memory No knowledge
3 Top 70% Describe and answer questions Understand when reading
4 Top 85% Describe and answer questions Describe from memory
5 Top 99% Describe and answer questions Describe and answer questions

 

This skill level chart works much the same, but focuses on abilities to do things with hardware and software rather than understanding and explaining the concepts. For skills, I’ve analyzed it based on how much or how little you need to look at your notes when implementing basic, intermediate, and complex tasks.

Skill Levels: Time Spent Referencing Notes to Implement Tasks of Different Complexity

Level Basic Task Intermediate Task Advanced Task
1 Much N/A N/A
2 Little N/A N/A
3 Little Much N/A
4 None Little Much
5 None Little Little

 

(This whole idea of setting specific and measurable goals comes from the SMART goals philosophy, if you’d like to read more.)

You can quantify the depth of knowledge and skill you hope to achieve using these charts, or ignore these charts, or change them for your own purposes. However, pick a way to quantify how deeply you want to learn a particular topic. Then fit that into your list of activities. For example:

  • Learn about the Topics in Class Y:
  1. Attend course
  2. Take notes during course to support knowledge levels 3 and skill level 2)
  3. Review course notes (goal: knowledge level 3)
  4. Create and learn Quizlets (or similar) based on course (goal: knowledge level 3)
  5. Create Lab and practice topics in class in the lab (goal: knowledge level 2)

 

Make “Learn Topic Z” SMART

We all have thoughts like this: “Hey, I’d like to learn about Z one day.” That’s a great thought. But how do we turn that into a list of specific and measurable activities?

First off, you have to put a circle around how big the topic area is that you’re trying to learn, and frankly, that’s hard to do before you know the topic well. A cert or a class already puts a circle around the breadth and depth of topics. However, deciding to “learn topic Z” is pretty open-ended, so it helps to try and put some bounds to the topic area.

Next, don’t even try to make a list of all the activities to achieve such a broad goal as “learn topic Z”. The more you learn, the more new activities you’ll think of, and you can add those to your plan.

Finally, take al the items already in your list for “learn topic Z”, and work on them to make them specific and measurable. That is, you should have a good idea of what must be done to complete that activity. For instance:

  • Read the chapters of book Y that are about Topic Z
  • Study book Y for knowledge level 3 about topic Z
  • Install and experiment with a particular software package for skill level 3

 

Finally… Adding the Activities to Your Quarterly Schedule

Well, this series has already gotten lengthy, almost like a small book. But I wanted to get you working on this last task today before the next post: adding your activities to the schedule.

By now, you should have a list of activities, all of which are specific and measurable. You have them listed in the order in which you will do them. Now you just need to take an educated guess at how long each will take, compare that to how much time you’ll devote to learning each week, and list the activities in your plan.

For today at least, take your list of activities, and plug them into the quarterly schedule for the next two years. If you put each activity in a separate row of a table like the below, it’s easy to make the table. The hard part is deciding how many of the items at the top of the list fit into the first quarter, how many of the next items fit into the 2nd quarter, and so on. For example:

Goal: Move from my current 1st level support job to network engineering

By end of Quarter: Task Time Estimate (# of Hours) Status
1Q15 Complete this development plan 12
1Q15 Form good goal setting and visualization habits Ongoing
2Q15 Read/review 2/3 of Book X 32
3Q15 Read review last 1/3 of Book X 16
3Q15 Study Book X (Knowledge level 3) 15
3Q15 Do labs for X exam (skill level 3) 30
3Q15 First Attempt at exam X 8
4Q15
1Q16
2Q16
3Q16
4Q16
YE17
YE18
YE19

 

Next post, we’ll talk about the review process, which will refine your plan. And your first review will happen now!

 

 

The Career Development Plan Part 1
The Career Development Review
certskills
By certskills March 9, 2015 09:05
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1 Comment

  1. Abdul-Jabbar Bozdar January 5, 19:16

    I completed this part as well. It was hard. It was really hard. I have been putting a lot of time in my dev plan. I am tired a little but not discouraged. My schedule is monthly instead quarterly, I find it better to my needs. Yet, I am afraid to measure my knowledge and skill levels. It’ll be the hardest part and next two months are critical.

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