How to design your personal project portfolio to develop yourself

As leaders, we can apply the same portfolio management strategy we use for our project portfolio to our personal development.

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Image: Gustavo Frazao/Shutterstock

The old adage that the cobbler's children go barefoot often applies to leaders. We invest our time and care in developing our teams, managing various programs, mitigating the crises that arise, and then wake up one day and realize that years have passed since we focused on our personal development and growth. This might seem like a sad state of affairs and cause for despair, but the silver lining to our situation is that we have all the right tools to manage our development and growth. Here are some suggestions on applying your IT leadership skills to one of your most essential tasks: developing yourself. These tasks should be performed at least on an annual basis, and you can use your strategic planning cycle at work as a reminder to complete your personal strategic planning as well.

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Benchmark yourself

The research and consulting companies have made millions benchmarking organizations against each other or a pre-defined standard, and a regular personal benchmarking session can be extremely effective (and probably requires far fewer Magic Quadrants.) Start by benchmarking yourself against where you were last year. A simple and beneficial way to perform this assessment is by doing an annual refresh of your resume, even if you have no intention of looking for a new job. By formally writing your latest accomplishments and skills, it should quickly become apparent whether you're stagnating or accelerating.

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The rise of professional social networking tools can also be helpful, although keep in mind that all social media shows a best version of an individual and should be viewed with that caveat in mind. See what your peers are doing to assess whether your career is growing or stagnating in relationship to others and identify new and exciting roles and organizations that might inspire as you build your personal development portfolio.

Take a portfolio approach

Effective tech leaders manage a healthy mix of projects and programs that range from upgrading basic infrastructure to investing in riskier innovation projects. Apply a similar approach to your development, ensuring that you're focusing not only on the obvious or "burning platform" areas of your development, but also considering long-term, strategic objectives.

Your personal "infrastructure" portfolio might include improving your task management process, upgrading your physical spaces, or adding healthy habits to your daily routine. Your strategic portfolio could be planning out aspirational roles or positions in the next three to five years and identifying the skills and development needs required to get there.

SEE: If you're not launching a new business, you should be (TechRepublic) 

We're all used to dealing with scarce resources at work, and allocating your scarce time and financial resources to your personal development should be no different. Just as you might tap your CFO or a trusted colleague to vet your portfolio at work, solicit the advice of a spouse, partner, or trusted friend who might identify areas you've missed or suggest different routes to accomplish your objectives.

Think holistically

Using the tools you apply at work might bias you toward thinking of your personal project portfolio as something designed solely to make you a more effective worker. However, attempting to separate work and life is a fool's errand, as your roles as a leader, friend, parent, coach and the other dozen titles we all answer to during each day are deeply interwoven. Ask yourself whether each element of your portfolio makes you a better, more holistic person rather than a one-dimensional bore.

SEE: Let go of perfection: Don't waste time on projects that won't yield much result (TechRepublic) 

A major decision as a result of this process might be to reallocate resources away from work and shift toward your family. Similarly, you might decide that a new exercise routine is more important than an extra 45 minutes triaging email. Strive to make yourself a more effective human rather than seeking excellence in one area at the expense of all others.

Improve your execution

A deep understanding of where you are in your career and a comprehensive and thoughtful development plan is nothing without effective execution. Assess your systems and tools for managing the daily tactical activities that will get you to your longer-term objectives. Consider whether your task management process needs an update, and if some new techniques and technologies can help. Look at how and when you plan your activities, and whether you're setting the agenda and actively planning and managing your days or allowing circumstance and the "squeaky wheel" to dictate where you're investing your scarce resources.

It's an uncertain and often challenging time to be a leader, yet many of the skills and tools we've applied to our work for years are just as effective applied to ourselves. By definition, this might seem selfish, but there are few better payouts for your job, family, and quality of life than investments in your self-improvement.

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By Patrick Gray

Patrick Gray works for a leading global professional services firm, where he helps companies rapidly invent and launch new businesses. He is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companio...