Can You Give Me An Example? Using BDD with Staff Development

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A cheeky re-post of my article published today at

This is a tip that I originally picked up from Liz Keogh in one of her talks on BDD a couple of years ago…

“Can you give me an example of that?”

OK, so it’s not quite BDD but I’m currently working with the team of function heads at my current employer (a team of us leading communities of practice around each function of development) to explore and address concerns and issues around career progression for development team roles within our flat organizational structure.

We don’t have “Junior” or “Senior” type job titles so someone who’s great at their job can easily remain with the same job title for many years. But there’s still a desire from individuals to feel their careers are progressing. Rather than conceding to job titles we’re in the process of completing a study by interviewing every member of our development teams and asking a really direct set of questions. (we’ll publish more detail on the questions we’re asking over at These were pretty daunting to start with but the candid responses and conversations we’ve been having have been amazing.

As a sneak preview so far, one aspect of our data is showing us that the majority of team members here don’t care about job titles – except in the ability to use them to define a sort of communication contract that allows us to set expectations about the kind of things we’re interested in and expect to be discussing.

As an example, we rely heavily on our User Experience team to do a lot of analysis and design work but this consists of multiple roles or specialized activities; Visual Design, Interaction Design, User Research, Functional Design, Service Design etc.

When talking to a UX person we frame our context in “User Experience” but that might not be precise enough to focus on the right value. Equally, most UX people I’ve worked with have natural specialisms within their field.

We expect all our staff to have some level of interdisciplinary skills – “T-Shaped” people. Some have a desire to become more “A-Shaped” (or even M-Shaped)  by developing additional specialisms over time, some want to broaden their interdisciplinary skills whilst some want to extend their current specialism.

This is a really tough problem to solve so we’re looking at various paths around career development using named roles, collections of directionally aligned skills and personal development planning conversations (see my previous two posts).

In exploring our options, we kept coming onto discussions like “what about the person who has no idea what they want to do” and then diving into trying to develop a skills framework, map or tool that would support this problem. In reality this is an edge case and we’re probably trying to solve the whole problem without tackling issues that would work for the majority and then learning from these.

So I borrowed Liz’s BDD trick. We’ve already interviewed and gathered concrete qualitative data from nearly 80 staff but were still talking about cases in the abstract.

I asked:

“From the data we already have, can you give me a concrete example of someone that has this problem”.

After 3 failed attempts we realized that even in the cases where staff didn’t know what they wanted their next role to be, they still had a desire to progress and some idea of the direction to head. Rather than trying to develop a catch-all framework we realized that what we need to provide is simply an awareness of options and a means of exploration for their given context.

We’re still working on the solution but things we’ve found so far are:

Most people have a desire to feel they’re making progress. They want direction, differentiation, support, safety and opportunity.

Nobody we’ve spoken to yet wants a wholesale reset of their role (as an aside, I did once have a great developer who decided he wanted to be a medical doctor – he succeeded!). So in the examples we have so far, people are either looking to extend their current job into related roles, expand expertise in their current role or move into an adjacent job or role.

This allows us to frame conversations in terms of adjacencies, current job/role, desired job/role, role models, skills and specialisms.

There’s also another critical component to this – what I’ve chosen to call “Fit”. If there’s no space to fill or a chosen path isn’t a good fit for a team or person we need to be having those conversations too.

So my thinking model for this at the moment is to talk about direction in terms of:

Job -> Roles -> Fit -> Skills -> Specialisms

Rather than trying to fix everything at once, our next step is to seek early feedback, inspect and adapt. We’ll be looking for a few people across roles to trial the ideas we’re coming up with and help us identify concrete examples we don’t know about at the moment and work through those.

I’m expecting us to have some concrete results before the end of September but we’ll be putting things into motion in the next week or so.

I’ll keep you all posted on how things progress.

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