How I’m using SCRUM to learn the basics of psychology

Ever since I started working as an HR pro, I knew psychology is the basis of this field. Unfortunately, I’ve never been its friend. Until now.

As I discovered after doing my learning needs assessment, learning psychology will bring me more than one benefit:

  • gain confidence (both self and from others) as a professional;
  • use psychology based arguments when proposing projects or programs in my work;
  • better understand how my work will affect people in scope;
  • something extra: better understand how my behaviour or actions affect my dear ones.

As you can see, I’ve given some thought on “why” I should start tackling the basics of psychology. I’ll use the “why” to keep going when I hit a wall in the learning process or I am demotivated.

I encourage you to always look for the “why” when starting learning something. This will help you:

  • not learn something because it’s trendy without giving us anybenefits;
  • have a strong motivation to return to during the process.

So, for the first quarter of this year (January — end of March), my learning goal is to understand the basic theories of the psychology field.

A very (very) short introduction to SCRUM

I’ve been working with (an adapted for HR version of) SCRUM for some time now. So I got to learn the basics about agile, epics, user stories, story points in product development.

While familiarising with it, I noticed I could apply some SCRUM concepts to better organise my learning schedule.

For those who are not familiar with this methodology, here are some key concepts and resources to get you forward.

What is SCRUM?

SCRUM is one of the agile software development frameworks.

SCRUM helps product development teams approach the development process in an iterative, time boxed way. It brings:

  • specific roles to the table (scrum master, product owner, the development team);
  • clear workflow with previously established meetings (sprint planning, daily scrum, sprint review, sprint retrospective);
  • artifacts to organise the workload (product backlog, sprint backlog etc).

This helps them:

  • Increase the quality of the deliverables;
  • Cope better with change (and expect the changes);
  • Provide better estimates while spending less time creating them;
  • Be more in control of the project schedule and state;

Some resources to better understand SCRUM

The benefits of applying SCRUM to the learning process

The Learning Backlog

One of the SCRUM artifacts is the Product Backlog — an ordered list of everything that is known to be needed in the product.

My Learning Backlog for learning psychology

If we replace Product with Learning, we get our Learning Backlog — a list of everything we need to learn in order to achieve our learning goal. While developing the Learning Backlog we gain an overview of the key things we’ll be approaching in the process.

Traditionally, the product backlog is a list of user stories (tasks) to be done by the team. Those user stories are further gathered in what it’s called EPICS — a big chunk of work that has one common objective.

For this purpose, the learning backlog is a list of EPICS — a concept to be learned and divided into even smaller tasks. I’ll work on breaking down the epics only when I start tackling them.

To build a learning backlog, you need a bit of research skills. What I did for my psychology goal, was research beginner courses and books, read their syllabus and make a list with every topic they cover. This might not be perfect right from the start, but I’ll be refining it (hopefully not too much) in the process.

The Sprints

Another term in SCRUM is the Sprint — a time-boxed event of 30 days, or less, that serves as a container for the other Scrum events and activities.

First Sprint of a Learning Goal

Sometimes, when learning, we have no feeling of progress. Dividing our goal in smaller steps can help. Sprints will give us an intermediate feeling of accomplishment, which serves as a motivator to go on.

For my psychology learning goal I’ll work in 2 weeks sprints— I’m already used to work in 2 weeks sprints and I think it’s enough time to have some learning done, and not too long to feel I’m making no progress.

The meetings

The SCRUM framework gives us a list of meetings a team should be conducting. I know we’re alone, but actually holding some of those meetings with ourselves, we’ll help us gain control over our learning process schedule.

I’ll have an 1 hour Sprint Planning each Saturday to plan what I’ll learn in the next 2 weeks. This is the moment when I decide what Epic I’ll approach next and what are the resources I’ll use to find out more about it (the user stories).

I’ll end the Sprint each Sunday with an 1 hour Sprint Review to check the knowledge I acquired and a 30 minutes Sprint Retrospective to check what went good and what went bad in my learning process. So I’ll also have time set aside to review both my learning progress and my learning habits.

The list of resources

Each time I decide to engage in a learning goal, I first make my research on resources I can use.

Usually, we tend to go down the rabbit hole. We open dozens of tabs and end up using none of them because we get lost in the information available out there.

For my goal of understanding the basics of psychology, I’m going to use the following resources:

If I decide afterward to deep-dive into Behaviorism, Positive Psychology, Research Methods or other psychology-related topics, those will be whole other learning goals. For now, these resources are more than enough.

Testing methods

To check my progress, each Sunday I have the 1h Sprint Review. I’ll use either tests or essays to see how much I’ve understood from what I learned.

“One of the most striking research findings is the power of active retrieval — testing — to strengthen memory, and that the more effortful the retrieval, the stronger the benefit.” 

― Peter C. Brown, Make It Stick

A final word

It took me 3 hours, on a not so sunny day, to make this plan. (considering I already knew about the SCRUM methodology)

The clarity it gives to know beforehand what are the things I should learn, what resources I’ll use and what’s my schedule, it’s tremendous.

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