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Many companies, especially larger ones have mandatory professional development plans for their employees. Employees and managers set out a personalized professional development plan and follow up on the progress every so often.

As a developer, do you find such PDPs useful, do you follow through with your commitments?

As a manager, do you think such PDPs bring value to the company and improve the overall quality of the employees?

It seems that good developers will continue to educate themselves and strive to be better regardless of companies' procedures while bad ones won't.

Are there benefits of having PDPs or is it just something managers feel they need to do?

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8 Answers 8

I love the idea that my employer is at least pretending to be concerned about my career development. Frankly though, this is a good thing. The more money you invest in your employee's self-betterment and overall career progression, the more you invest in your company.

Smarter, healthy, more qualified employees = better work = more money = everyone happy. 
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+1 for "at least pretending". –  Jesse C. Slicer Oct 8 '10 at 13:56

Can't say I've ever been a fan of PDPs - and I've always worked in places that have some form of PDP-based process.

For a start, they are often tied to extrinsic motivators (e.g. bonuses), which will motivate some people for a while, but in the long run don't really work. This also leads to "gaming" of the PDP process, where people will set goals deliberately low in order to maximize financial gain with minimal effort. You personally might have the integrity to resist this - you might approach the process with the best intentions - but it sure is hard to motivate yourself to take the process seriously when everybody around you is just going through the motions.

Secondly, having your professional development tied into the goals of the company make it more difficult to explore areas that you want to explore but aren't core to the goals of the company. If you're lucky enough to have the same goals, this maybe isn't an issue - tho' bear in mind the company also has financial goals, which you may or may not share (or at least, may not prioritize the same way).

Finally, you mentioned it above, so +1 - it's so much better to take responsibility for your own professional development. Be in the driver's seat instead of waiting for the bus to come :p

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I regard these as an organizational smell. That is they are not necessarily a red flag, but an indicator that you should be looking for red flags. PDP initially sounds good, but I've rarely seen any action really happen with them in the past. Usually, they are just a waste of the several hours it takes to fill them out, get them approved, etc.

I say they are a smell because these are part of that MBA/HR group of tools which includes Performance Objectives, Annual Reviews, PDP and "incentive" based pay (which is essentially a disincentive according to many including Joel Spolsky and Mary Poppendeick). All of these approaches put together encourage a me-first attitude and at best accidentally reward anyone for being a team player. This also usually means "we have a quota of Excellent, Above Average, Average, and Not Meeting Expectations performance grades that we will abide by regardless of actual performance" and thereby introduce competition instead of cooperation.

If I have to compete with my team members, am I going to share information with them? Am I going to risk falling behind on my tasks to help them out on theirs? The answer is "no".

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This is a great idea, although hardly implmented (IME) - I always find it amusing that we are suppose to know all new technologies the moment they come out regardless if the corporation is using them or not. I guess we are individually motivated to keep up on the learning curve so we getting better raises, bigger bonuses, not getting fired.

But if management want to move all applications to WPF in the next year, sending the developers out for WPF classes just makes all kinds of sense.

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As a developer, I've found them to be a major pain to select where I want to improve, what I'll do it to get there and what result this is supposed to have to make it worthwhile. While I can see the potential of it being ultimately good, there is something to be said for the growing pain of learning how to do these and seeing what is and isn't acceptable to the organization as such plans often require some form of managerial approval.

Course I should note that for most of my career I didn't have these until my current position and this is part of the formalization that the company is going through as it matures.

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I think it's mostly catering for the not-so-good developers (and other staff). Interested, passionate people will generally take care of themselves. I've found "personal development" is often a euphemism for "moving to management", which is of course the only career goal any of us should have....

That said, it's good to talk about what you want to achieve so that opportunities are made available to you. It can also help narrowly-focused tech heads to take a step back and think beyond the current project/technology. If the only way an organisation can get those talks to happen is via enforced PDPs, then I guess they're useful.

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Frankly, I was hired to do technical stuff (writing code is only part of my job, though the other aspects are also technical) and I have virtually no tolerance for red tape. I tend not to even look at most of it until I've been nagged about it more than once, especially if the person asking for it is just an administrative person and not my boss. I suspect a PDP would be yet another one of these things and I would grudgingly do it while waiting for code to compile or run, just to get rid of whoever was nagging me about it.

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I have worked for one company that had PDPs.

The problem with the PDPs was that once they were set, there was no time allowed for the development. So you had to do it on your own time. If you didn't do it, there was no chance of a bonus or raise. From this experience I decided that the company wants to benefit from you spending you own time and money. Overall I think it is a good thing to develop yourself but not necessarily with targets set by your company.

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