Have you ever felt worthless? Did your presence in the organization have a positive impact? Did you have an achievement to be proud of or not? The name of this feeling is “Imposter Syndrome“.

This strange feeling occurs in many people and at many times.

As a scrum master, Agile coach and even a product manager, I have experienced this feeling many times.

I admit it’s a really annoying feeling.

My purpose in this text is not to explain imposter syndrome. I don’t want to delve into it. My goal is transfer my experience from the days that I’ve spent intensity of this feeling of sadness. Of course, in this story, I will also write about how I got through these days.

You can read a complete description of imposter syndrome on its Wikipedia page.

The Story started here

A few years ago, I joined one of the largest companies in Iran as a Scrum Master. I experienced the sweetest experience of accompanying and onboarding in the first days of my presence. I tried to get to know the team I was supposed to be with a specific plan.

A large team of 14 people was working on one of the key products of the company.

The team members were all selected from experts and experienced people. They had the good technical knowledge to do their jobs, but they didn’t feel good.

In the first weeks, I was mostly a listener, trying to record what I saw without judgment. I used every opportunity to talk to the team members and see the current situation from their point of view.

Gradually, after a few weeks, a list of inadequacies and deficiencies that I had reached was prepared. It was time to act. At the same time, younger forces had joined the team and the team members reached 18 people.

I tried to organize Scrum events with daily meetings for the team and introduce them to agile thinking in between.

It may be unbelievable, but the Daily Scrum meetings sometimes reach 45 minutes. The Daily Standup meetings have a 15-minutes time-box.

My goal was to solve the root of the problem.

I did not insist on shortening the meetings. In the conversations, I had with the senior managers, I conveyed my opinions to them. In my opinion, the problem of holding long 45-minute meetings or not holding retrospective or planning meetings was not acceptable.

I thought I had to come in to solve bigger, more rooted problems. That’s why I wasn’t sensitive to many of the inconsistencies with the Scrum processes.

That’s why I tried to cooperate with team members in different departments.

But the first unpleasant events were happening on this path.

Padding in roles

My role changed from scrum master to hero, cop, secretary, etc. was happening. The incident slowly made me suffer from imposter syndrome.

The 8 Misunderstood Stances of a Scrum Master
The 8 Misunderstood Stances of a Scrum Master

In the same days, the senior managers decided to hold a special Agile coaching course and to select the most qualified people, they held interviews and tests in several stages to select 10 people from among about 35 scrum masters who were working in different teams.

I was at the beginning of my bout with imposter syndrome and incredibly I was second on the shortlist.

It was exciting.

I can’t hide my happiness, but after a few hours impostor syndrome hit me very quickly. The condition that causes imposter syndrome is discomfort and a feeling of inadequacy. I did not see the achievement I had achieved.
The imposter syndrome told me that I was not capable enough to improve my team’s good condition because I had not solved the team’s root problems.

How can I be selected as an agile coach? And many words and questions occupied my mind to the point where my efficiency was decreasing every day.

A ture mentor

Talking to Asad Safari has always been full of learning for me. I have learned a lot from him in the last few years. One of those days I called him to discuss the matter with him.

He told me to read this story. A story about his struggle with the syndrome was captivating. I read the article and tried to implement what I learned from it.

I slowly freed myself from the trap of imposter syndrome. And began to see the impact I had made on the team over the past few months.

By looking at my writings from the observations of the first days and comparing it with the situation that day:

  • Team communication had become significantly more and better.
  • The direct manager of the team had agreed to put the process of dividing that big team into small teams on the agenda.
  • Infrastructural optimizations were underway to remove software dependencies that prevented team splitting.
  • All Scrum events were being held in an acceptable manner.
  • In the retro meetings, the team members sought to solve the complexities and obstacles instead of looking for the culprit.
  • And many other positive measures whose impact on the team’s activity was palpable.

But why did I not see these events until that moment?

Progress is made little by little. It may not be easy to see, but recording the events and periodically returning to those notes always helps us to have a better understanding of the situation and to see small improvements. Small improvements that are like pieces of a big puzzle help to make a more realistic and beautiful picture.

Coaching card or a sheet of white paper?

just write!

In the same article that I have linked to, Asad Safari wrote about his experience in preparing a coaching card, the main idea of ​​which was taken from the Agile42 site.

This card is very helpful and helpful, but it is a tool.

In my opinion, tools are only made to help us and we should not get involved in whether this tool is better or that one.

That’s why I emphasize writing in this section. In whatever tool you have access to. And of course, make changes and customizations according to your needs.

How to build your own custom tools?

Neither I nor anyone else is qualified to advise you on this. Every article, guide, and consultation should aim to make you think for yourself. And find the best solution according to your needs.

But how do I customize the coaching card for myself?

Focus on your observation

The important advice of this structure is to guide your thinking and does not necessarily mean that it can solve your problem.

Dividing a paper into two sections:

  • observations and observed problems/opportunities.
Impostor syndrome Coaching Card for Product Managers
Impostor syndrome Coaching Card for Product Managers
  • In the observation section, try to write down every behavior, event or anything that you see.
  • Try to discover what problem or opportunity what you have observed is the result of what you have observed.

Don’t worry, these sections will be updated by you from time to time. It has happened to me many times that based on observation, I have felt that there is a problem, and later I realized that the problem did not exist, and sometimes it happened to be an opportunity.

Try using one sheet of paper for each observation (or grouping by similar observations that result from a specific problem or create an opportunity for you and the team).

Focus on your Solution

Now turn the paper over and start writing ideas on the back that you think might solve the problem or enhance the opportunity.

You can write the solution to any problem or boost any opportunity you see on a single line, spaced in front of it to evaluate its accuracy over time.

Divide the bottom section into two columns. Put a column for the initial registration date and the revision date registration, and in a column next to it, write your opinion about this card (observations, identified problems and opportunities, and your solutions).

You could complete this part of your card after your actions.

Let’s say I’ve created a card for some of my observations with this structure and given myself deadlines to review. A week, ten days or a month later, I refer to this page again and write my result and opinion on it, put a date on it and put it in my archive.

Impostor syndrome Coaching Card for Product Managers
Impostor syndrome Coaching Card for Product Managers

I try to refer to these archived sheets periodically.

Disclosure of achievements/mistakes

Small improvements that have happened or mistakes I’ve made along the way become very apparent to me.

When I get imposter syndrome, looking at these sheets helps me see the situation more realistically and increases my performance faster.

You can use these cards for retrospective meetings in the team.

With team members, create cards for observations, problems/opportunities, and solutions, put them where all team members can see them, and reassess them at subsequent retrospective meetings.

Once again, this solution was an example of how I rid myself of this imposter syndrome. This solution does not necessarily mean the best solution and everyone has to find their own way to get rid of imposter syndrome.

But the most important thing to avoid imposter syndrome is to know it. To know that this syndrome may appear in different ways in anyone. So first try to recognize it in yourself and then look for the best solutions.

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