Challenge yourself

 07 January 2013

At Wunderkraut Sweden we work together with Michael Göthe, who is a professional team coach. We have regular meetings with Michael, and he inspires us each and every time.

This blog post is also inspired by one of our meetings, but it contains lots of my personal thoughts, so it might not be 100% professional.

Once we talked about challenge and we learned that the right level of challenge makes people productive. When tasks are challenging and require harder than usual thinking, it keeps us motivated. When we are eager to solve problems, we easily get into flow. Having achievable but challenging goals is crucial.

Michael’s example was playing a football game against kindergarten-age children. The score will certainly be positive, but can you expect outstanding performance from the adult team? Not likely, because it’s not required to win. A football team needs a real, strong opponent in order to play spectacular football.

Find the challenge

This means we constantly need to find what’s challenging for us. Maybe it’s not simple with all kinds of projects, but it’s definitely not impossible. The nature of challenge can vary a lot.

Imagine the following scenario. There is a team, which is going to work on a simple and small blog website. The team consists of four experienced developers. For them it doesn’t sound like a challenging project, does it? When the team is estimating the user stories they choose quite low story points, since all of the team members have seen lots of much more complicated projects than building a simple blog. So they decide to challenge themselves by committing to deliver the project in an unusually short time frame. They even try to “overdeliver” it, so they create more value than expected using the available budget.

Let’s see another example. The team has never worked with CSS preprocessors before, but they all know it will make them more productive in the long run. So they decide to challenge themselves by learning a new technique while they are working on their next project.

Another, last example. Two of the developers in this team focus mainly on backend, the two others are great front-enders. How about mixing the roles a little bit, so the ones who are good at back-end will undertake the front-end jobs and vice versa? Is that challenging enough? They can do a lot of pair-programming and spend reasonable time to improve their skills while delivering value to their client.

There are many ways to achieve the healthy balance with challenge in our work. It’s only up to our creativity to find what fits best for us. Important to remember that challenge means different things for everyone, so keep this in mind when you work in a team. You have to think about the team as a whole. Remember the football game analogy. There are players in the team with different skills and attitude. The last example of creating challenge touched this area upon; building a theme wouldn’t be hard for a front-ender, but it could certainly be for a back-end person.

Sometimes the nature of the project itself gives enough challenge for the given team. In other cases, as we have seen in the above examples, the team has to be creative to challenge the team members. But what if the goals gets too big?

Too much challenge

When the level of challenge becomes too high, raise the flag immediately and react. Otherwise it will affect the productivity badly. When people think a plan is impossible to achieve, their performance will lower. Our mind won’t feel the motivation anymore, because we think no matter what we do, it won’t be enough to achieve the goal. So it will be like there is no goal anymore.

If the team had set up too high goals, that’s the fortunate situation because it’s easier to adjust. With honest and clear communication this mistake can be and has to be corrected as early as possible. For instance if they think they would be able to start using a new technique during a sprint, but it doesn’t really work out, they have to react as soon as possible, communicate with the product owner and do something in order to minimize the loss of business value.


There is another factor in challenge, and that’s expectation. Expectations always increase the challenge, therefore this can easily lead to a dangerous situation when the team has to deal with too big goals. Performance will suffer because of this. Managing expectations is key, but that is a whole other topic.

When the team feels expectations are not being realistic, they must communicate this to the product owner, and discuss together how they could adjust in order to set goals that are reachable. Often the customer sets up too much expectations, so again, clear communication is the only way to solve this. We need to tell customers that we do our best to deliver business value to them, but if their demands are too high, that will result in less value in the end.


No matter how much challenge we face in our work, we can always try to adopt to the certain situation. Not enough challenge? Make it interesting! Try out new tools, improve team workflow etc. Too many expectations? Deal with it as a team, be mindful, motivate each other, discuss it with the product owner.

Achieving the right level of challenge by constantly adopting will result a motivated, efficient team and happy clients.

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