I am a lot of things, but an introvert is NOT one of them. In fact, I am full-blown extrovert. In the movie Shrek, when Princess Fiona finds out that Donkey can talk, Shrek sarcastically responds, "Yeah, but it's getting him to shut up that's the trick." Yeah, that's me sometimes.
So, why am I, an admitted extro, writing an article about self-care for introverts? Because as an agile coach I work with a lot of developers, and that profession tends to draw a fair number of introverts. As a coach and an extrovert, I love the people I work with and want to see you all succeed and prosper. Hopefully this little article will help someone survive the "death by a thousand conversations" that PI Planning can be.
How did I do my research? I work with a lot of introverts, and in fact I live with two. I talked with many of my professional peers, I did a lot of article research on the web, etc. But above all else, I used empathy to try to hear and understand what many of you have said to me. Hopefully, I heard you well! Of course, I am not a doctor and don't pretend to be one. At the end of the day, you'll need to develop your own personal self-care routine. Hopefully this article will give you some ideas!
in·tro·vert | \ ˈin-trə-ˌvərt \
one whose personality is characterized by introversion
especially : a reserved or shy person who enjoys spending time alone
Well, that's certainly a tidy summation. Note that this doesn't mean introverts hate people, they just prefer to spend time alone. Is there anything wrong with being an introvert? No, of course not. This is just a way that some people are; like some folks can't stand cold, or hate egg salad, or look better in reds, or whatever. It's just a part of the spectrum of being human.
The vast majority of people in the world have both introvert and extrovert tendencies in their preferences. Extroverts like myself sometimes need to be lost in their own thoughts, while there are tons of introverts who are quiet and shy right up until you engage them on their passions. The only real question is: how much of each are you?
If you are one of the folks who strongly identify with the introvert side of things, then please read on. This article is written for you and designed with one specific event in mind, PI Planning. But the lessons here can certainly apply towards any important company event. Hopefully we can shed some light on great strategies for successfully attending these large, loud, noisy events!
If you are an extrovert, like myself, then read on as well. Engage your empathy and look at PI Planning from the point of view of our quieter brothers and sisters who might hate this kind of activity. They are just a much a part of our teams as anyone else, and we want the entire team to succeed.
Regardless of which side you land on, PI Planning is still going to happen and you still have a job to do. Let's see about getting it done.
We're going to tackle this huge event in three phases:
But first, a quick definition of PI Planning.
If you work in a Scaled Agile shop, then you probably know this event, and possibly dread it. PI Planning happens about every ten weeks. It is a monster two-day event that pulls all of the development teams together into one large room so that you can all coordinate the next ten weeks of activity together. But best of all, your reward for doing this is… wait for it… in ten weeks you get to do it again.
For a large portion of these two days, the conversation is lead or managed by a few key players. Your Release Train Engineer (RTE) or Product Managers (PM) will be doing presentations, talking, guiding the room, etc. Those parts are probably easier to tolerate; other than actively listening there's little engagement required. The really tough parts are the two team breakout sessions. The afternoon of the first day is a huge effort that blasts through three whole hours. Ouch. Morning of day two is only slightly better, you're going to be in that team breakout for just two and a half hours. All told this is over five hours that start to look like a conversational death march. They just go on and on. We'll be spending the rest of this article setting up success for these two sessions.
Let's start with pre-game strategies that you can employ to set yourself up for some successes. This setup means that the morning of PI Planning, when the big event starts, you should be well-rested, well-fed, well-hydrated and as physically ready as you can possibly be. Obviously all of these things mean different things for different people, so let me state this another way: You are going to have enough on your plate without worrying about fighting your body being tired, hungry or thirsty; so take those things off of the table, as best as you can.
What about the mental aspects? Spend time charging up your social batteries with quiet or alone time. Maybe video games, some Netflix, snuggling with your pets, whatever gets you into your 'charged-up and ready' spot the best! Those social batteries are going to be critical to your well-being tomorrow, so spend time filling them up. If you have a family, even though you love them, your situation might mean that you ask them for time alone the night before.
Before we dive into PI Planning let me mention one of the best inventions ever for introverts who have to attend a large social event… noise cancelling headphones. There are some pretty amazing sets that don't run too terribly much. Of course feel free to splurge if you so desire. Make sure they are fully charged and you have a charger cable or batteries ready for them.
So. It's the morning of the first day of PI Planning and as soon as you walk into the room you are probably assaulted by a wall of noise, activity and… lots and lots of people. Ooof. Here's where those noise cancelling headphones come in. Most likely your team is all sitting at a table together. Grab a seat with them and plant those cans firmly on your ears and dive into some work, or reddit or whatever. You've worked really hard to walk in with fully charged social batteries, don't blow them all right away. This might even be one occasion where you show up just at the very last minute, as the event is getting underway.
After some time the presentations will start. Hopefully this is an easy part for you. Simply pay attention and listen to what is presented. There will be a few QA sessions throughout the morning, but those aren't impacting you unless you have a question. If that question is important enough, go ahead and ask, but otherwise just play the silent listener and take it all in until you make it through the lunch session. For lunch, grab a plate and a quiet corner and disappear under those headphones or at least some earbuds. If you are in a working lunch… then welcome to the team breakout sessions.
The goal here is for each team to take a series of features and break them into stories, then plan out the next four sprints of work via those stories. This is where you'll be spending some of those social batteries that you've been protecting up until this point. But, I would suggest that you focus on the technical aspects of the job versus the social aspects. Your team needs your input and professional expertise, so really make sure you give them the best that you possibly can.
And, for the love of Pete, take breaks! But do it right. Tell your team that you'll be taking breaks from time to time and all of you agree upon a break cadence: how often and for how long. I would suggest short breaks every 30-45 minutes, but work that out with your peers. When break time comes, you disappear with your headphones and literally get out of the room. Take a breather and settle your nerves. Once break is over, get back into the fight and push on through.
Throughout this all, keep your main work-related goals in mind:
All of those goals add up to one uber-goal: properly plan a sustainable rate of work for the next Program Increment. At the end of the day, if the plan your team presents isn't a realistic and achievable plan, then you haven't succeeded, and no one wants that to happen.
One quick note about the evening of Day 1. Make sure your schedule is as clear for this evening as you can possibly get it. After an intense day of people-ing, you'll definitely want some time alone, down, quiet. Whatever worked for you the night before is probably a good bet for the evening of Day 1 as well. Make sure you've already arranged it so that family and/or friends give you as much space this evening as you need.
For the Day 2 breakout session, it's more of the same. But this time it will be a little bit shorter and you'll have a stronger understanding of the features and stories presented to your team, so hopefully it won't be quite as stressful.
One additional piece of concern: I've had several of my teams tell me that visually PI Planning can be just as intense as audibly. There are tons of multi-colored stickies, paper hanging off of the wall, projectors lighting up the wall, and tons of other visual stimulae. If these are things that can get under your skin then choose a seat at the table with the least busy view available and double down on taking breaks. And do tell me in the comments if you have some better opinions or options!
At the end of each breakout session your team will be presenting its plan (Draft Plan at end of Day 1, and Final Plan on Day 2) to the entire room. I sincerely hope that this isn't your job to deliver these, but maybe it is and you couldn't talk or bribe someone else into taking this for you! If so, then keep these minimum requirements in mind:
And keep these simple tips in mind for public speaking:
Whew, both days are officially done, but you may have one more task. There's probably a Happy Hour, or celebration event to attend at the end of Day 2. Look, I'll be honest, as a coach I like to see teams fully participate in these socializing events. But I also understand if you can't. Simply explain to your team that you need to spend some time recharging, if they are good people, then they'll understand. On the other hand, if there's enough charge in your battery to simply make a quick appearance, say Hello and maybe have a drink of your choice… then please do. I'm sure they would love to see you there. No worries either way.
In either case, you'll find yourself back home with this evil beast behind you. Put on your music, chill, relax and just rest in the knowledge that you gave a good showing for your team. If you have an organization with a liberal PTO policy, maybe arrange to take the day after off. You know how you recoup from the larger social engagements in life, this has just been one of those. Except with a strong work focus. It's like Thanksgiving at Aunt Ellie's but with TPS reports, right? OK, maybe not.
Just like every other human on this planet, you as an introvert, have specific needs that set you up to thrive. You also have a job to do and sometimes those two things collide. Wherever possible get on top of your needs for quiet, alone time and charge up the batteries that you'll then use later to get your job done. And along the way, possibly do a little reading up on how other introverts handle life in a very extrovert-happy world.
Hopefully this article has given you some good pointers on things you can do to manage the PI Planning process. If not, then please sound off in the comments below! I would love to learn more from you.
(PS: Thanks to the fine folks over at www.theoatmeal.com for the use of the image above! Please do swing on by and check out some of their amazing work!)