Like most organizations, Microsoft is keen on rewarding people who go above and beyond.  Defining what “above and beyond” looks like for every individual in the company is a process we do annually called “Commitments.”  As an organization, we spend significant portions of July and August defining our commitments for the next fiscal year.  The process starts somewhere high in upper management, and gradually filter down to those of us leaf nodes.

Last year was my first pass through this process.  And, while I don’t yet know the results of my review, I feel that the process failed me.  Here’s how:  I wrote my commitments in July/August.  By September, they were out of date.  By October, they were meaningless.  Why?  Because priorities changed, and my role on the team changed.  But, my commitments didn’t change with my role, in real-time.  Sure, I tuned my commitments in February at my mid-year review (MYR).  My manager and I adjusted them as best we could based on the information we had at the time.  But, by April, they were again made meaningless, when I changed roles yet again.

Because I only had two shots to get my commitments right last year, they rapidly became little more than silly reminders of a foregone time.  “Look at those old commitments!  Aren’t they quaint?!”  They held little relevance for me in my day to day job.  And, as such, they were useless to me as a tool for deciding how to prioritize my work and where to spend my time.  This (fiscal) year, my first and most important commitment (to myself, not Microsoft) is to figure out a saner, simpler, more Agile way of setting commitments that mean something over time.

Step One:  My commitments must change to reflect my role on the team.  At the beginning of the year, I will have specific commitments.  If my role changes, I commit to adding new commitments to reflect my new role, and to evaluate and retire commitments that no longer apply.  If this works the way I hope it will, by the end of the year, I’ll have already written most of my annual review.  In a sense, I want to define my commitments incrementally, as circumstance change throughout the year.

Come back soon for Step Two:  My commitments must reflect those of my team, my group, my organization, and my division.