No Resolutions, Please

As I sat with my strong-willed 5-year-old on Christmas Eve, she prepared to write a letter to leave out for Santa Claus. “What should I write?” she asked me, this being the first year she could actually pen her own missive.

How about starting with “Dear Santa, I’ve been a good girl this year?”

“No! I can’t write that, because I haven’t. I don’t want to lie!”

The concern in her voice was palpable. It seems our repeated hints when the song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” had finally taken hold (you know, ‘…He’s gonna find out who’s naughty and nice…’). She wasn’t willing to risk lying to Santa on this the very evening he was coming with his bag of presents. Although her behavior had yet to be significantly altered, she was quite aware of her shortcomings.

Much like the 5-year-old who recognizes room for improvement, we all can point to an area or two in which we’d like to perform better. While the New Year is typically a time for making resolutions, I find that resolutions tend to be short-lived and, therefore, a waste of time.

A continuous process, though, of selecting and focusing on one of your team’s shortcomings is a proven way to improve. Whether it is ensuring a good set of acceptance tests are defined *before* beginning a new story, creating more complete automated unit tests, firming up environmental issues, or following through on retrospective commitments, agile teams will generally have some set of improvements that are known, but not yet acted upon.

Not your team? Well, then here’s a place to start: hold a retrospective. Your team is sure to uncover some opportunities. Still drawing blanks? Really? Maybe you need to make it more fun. Try one of the Innovation Games such as Speedboat to get your group into the brainstorming mood.

In contrast with the young child who does not yet possess the willpower to change her actions, I encourage you to move beyond the “knowing” stage and get into the “improving” stage on one top item. Just one. Any one. When you have that one licked, pick another. Then another. Before you know it, your team will be well on their way to even better results.

And remember: you don’t have to wait for a New Year to start improving. Make it a continual process and feel free to start any time… like now. And please don’t call it a resolution.

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