Using Scrum as a framework to have better one-on-one meetings with your manager or mentor


One-on-one (1:1) meetings—do you set them up each month, or does your manager? Do you look forward to having a good development conversation with your manager or mentor, or are you trying to find something to say for the next 30 minutes? Think of your regular one-on-one meeting with your manager or your mentor as a Scrum Sprint Planning Meeting, Stand Up, and Retrospective—all at once.

At my company, managers are encouraged to spend one hour per month one-on-one with associates to review feedback and discuss their development. Sometimes this may be a one-hour meeting, or two half-hour meetings per month. I believe that as an associate, you own the one-on-one meeting–after all it’s about you and your development; but as a manager, I will schedule the time, to make sure it occurs. If you don’t have regular one-on-one meetings with your manager, you should schedule some dedicated time once per month—time that is different than status meetings and work reviews you may already have set aside. This is your time to discuss what you are working on, what progress you have made, and what feedback you have; as well as what your manager’s priorities are, and how you can help the team. If you are in a senior or leadership position, your one-on-one discussions could be longer, or more often, as you are leading different work streams and you are following through on your leader’s strategy and vision for your team.

Each associate owns the agenda for their own one-on-one meeting. As a manager, I may have some feedback and agenda items of my own, but I prefer the associate drive it. When an associate comes prepared, and has a list, I am always impressed. I’m usually not excited when an associate shows up with no agenda to discuss, or even scarier, no pen and paper.

This is an important meeting and an important engagement touch point—we are talking about if your manger cares about you as a person, has a discussion about your progress, shares feedback on your work, and you will discuss action items together. As an aside, if you are not having regular one-on-one meetings with your manager, you should set one up—I suggest once per month to get started.

If we use Scrum as a framework for these meetings with your manager, we can think of the time between meetings as Sprints or Iterations. Your Personal Sprints may be two weeks or a month—during this time, you have been working on items that were prioritized earlier, completed or are still in progress; and you have some ideas on what needs to be done next. You also have plans and goals for your personal development and your career. Your manager is the first person that should be helping you with these priorities.

What are you working on now? (Stand Up)

During the daily stand up, you have a chance to share what you are working on now, what you have planned, and any things that are blocking your success. Your one-on-one meeting is no different, you should start off by sharing what you accomplished during your previous Sprint (last two weeks or month), what you have planned for the next Sprint (next two weeks or month), and what is blocking you, or what you need help with in order to accomplish your goal. This is an opportunity to show off a little—share what you are proud of. Share that you have a plan for the next two weeks, and ask for help or guidance if you need it.

What is your priority? (Sprint Planning)

I think it’s important for associates to have a direction in mind, whether its their next position, aspiration, or things they want to accomplish for their team. Your manager will also have action items he wants you to accomplish—both for yourself and your team. During your regular one-on-one meetings you should be discussing what is most important, and prioritizing your work together—it is your work, but your manager has significant input. As agile as your team is, the priority of each item on which you are leading or contributing may have changed.

Planning should involve what your manager has planned for your team, and how you will contribute to those goals; as well as what you have planned for yourself. Your manager is not the Product Owner, you are; but when it comes to judging success for short-term performance goals, he is definitely a stakeholder.

Ask for help if you need it. Share what might be blocking you from being successful. Do you have the tools, like knowledge, equipment, or support, you need to complete your goals? Do you need some air cover or some public support from your manager as you are making a change or trying something new with your team?

Its important to share your plans for the next two weeks and the short term, like the next few months; as well as the near term, like the next six to nine months; and your long term plans, such as one to two years. Your manager should be helping to position you to reach your goals—whether that is placing you on projects that will stretch or build new skills and experiences, introducing you to leaders that can mentor you, or giving you a chance to try new opportunities. Your manager cannot help you if you don’t share what you are working toward.

How did the last month go? (Sprint Retrospective)

At the end of each Sprint, it is important to share what you have accomplished, as well as receive feedback and guidance on how you’ve done. Be courageous, and ask directly for feedback. This is an opportunity to learn how you are progressing, and discuss your development plan to improve. Think about the most recent feedback you’ve received, or your most recent performance review.

Feedback works both ways, during the retrospective, it is also important to share your feedback for your manager if you have any.

Use this template for one-on-one meetings with your manager or mentor

I use a template as an agenda to plan, and come prepared for one-on-one meetings with my manager, and I’ve shared this template with my team in the past.

  • Name, date (Your manager may bring this worksheet to your next one-one-one meeting to review with you how you’ve progressed. My manager does.)
  • How I feel right now (Do you need additional or more challenging work? Are you overwhelmed or frustrated?)
  • What I did in the last 30 days (Sharing my accomplishments.)
  • What I have planned for the next 30 days (Let’s prioritize this together. Am I on the right track?)
  • The help I need in order to accomplish my 30 day plan (This is a call to action for your manager.)
  • Share and track my plans for the next 3 months, the next year, and the next 2 years. (These are your short term objectives, near team strategy, and long term career goals and plans. How can your manager help you or set you up for success?)
  • What I am working on now for my development (Are you learning a new skill? Attending training? Working on feedback you’ve received?)

I am happy to say that my current manager has been truly helpful in listening to what my plans are, and thinking of ways to help me achieve them. He has provided coaching, suggested the right activities and things on which I should be focused, introduced me to influential leaders in the organization, and identified opportunities  and stretch objectives as they arise. I do the same for my associates, and I am impressed, and more eager to help, when they bring an agenda to our one-on-one meeting for each Personal Sprint. If you use this method for each one-on-one, you will have plenty of material to write your self-assessment for your performance review at the end of the year.

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