Progress

Progress-Footprints

Are you progressing on what you are working on? You are? Great!!

How do you know? How far are you towards your goal? How much progress have you made? How much is left?

If you can’t answer these questions you may not be progressing at all! You may have done some great stuff but how much has it counted to your overall plans?

What Is Progress?

Your average dictionary described progress as:

Forward or onward movement towards a destination.

Let’s break that down. There is a destination – otherwise known as a goal. There is movement – i.e. work has been done. And it is towards the destination, in other words it is measurable as being the right work. So how can you apply that to what you are doing right now?

Goals

Progress is nothing without a goal. You need something to progress towards. Imagine you are an explorer and you have covered 13km today. Great! What direction were you heading? Was it the right one? Did you just unknowingly go around in a big circle? Did you really make progress?

In engineering, a goal is usually well-defined at the start of a project. But if you are your own boss, do you know what your goal is? Do you want to make a certain amount of income in this quarter? Do you want 100 people to sign up for your newsletter this month? Do you want to connect with 10 new leads this week? Great, these are good goals, and they are the yardstick against which to measure progress. If you can’t write down what you want to achieve then that needs to be your new priority.

How Do You Measure?

When I ask a member of my team how there work is going, there is a pretty good chance the answer I will get is “I’m going good and I’m nearly done”. Great! So that means you’ll be done today? “Err.. no not today”. So when do you reckon? “Soon”.

I’ve had this conversation plenty of times. The best way to fix it is to implement a way of measuring. As a Software Engineering Manager, my usual go-to is the functional unit test, which is a nerdy way of checking that one measurable part of your overall goal is complete. Which brings me to incremental progress tracking.

Break it down

Anyone can do this – break your goal down into tasks (increments) which in turn you know that when they are done your goal will be complete. Then mark them as done as you do them. If you have 10 tasks and you knock of 3 of them, then you’re 30% done. It’s not always that simple but it is a good start.

Tasks are usually driven by the goal in question. Planning a party? Your tasks are probably send invitations, hire a room and order food and drinks. Easy to complete and check off. Need 100 signups for your newsletter? Maybe your tasks are launch an ad campaign or personal word-of-mouth. If an ad campaign gets you 20, you will need to think of 4 more. But at least there is a direct measure which you know is related to achieving the goal. Remember, if you can’t measure it how do you know you are making progress?

Estimating the Future

The great thing about defining goals, breaking them down and measuring progress is you will become better at estimating work for the future. Nothing pleased me more than going back to the same engineer a few weeks later and getting an answer of “I’m 40% done and I’ll be done in 3 days”. Even better is being able to estimate a new task or goal well. Sometimes this can be hard, but with some time spent tracking goals, tasks and progress, you will be able to do the same. And a great burden is lifted when you can tell your boss or your client reliably when they will get what they want.

 

4 Tips for Working with Distributed Teams

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Click Engineering recently worked with a small startup who had most of their team in Perth but also had their developers in Melbourne. Faced with this, the problem had to be solved of how to get the best out of the team.

Working with a distributed team can be a definite problem, as working together in an office provides many opportunities to catch up on the day, identify problems people are having, offer advice, answer questions and generally build a good relationship with the team. And as team leaders and managers know, a good relationship with your team is a vital part of getting the best out of everyone.

When the team is located in the same office, it is easy to see if people are frustrated just by their body language. You probably take it for granted that you can spot this and go over and offer a ‘how are things going’? And you may not realise how much of a gift it is to cross paths with a team member in the kitchen or hallway and be able to find out how they are going any ask any questions they have. These are all golden opportunities for the team to ask for clarification on something, double-check a priority or just catch up over the weekend’s events.

So what if these opportunities are taken away from you? You will learn very quickly how valuable they are! When team members are working remotely, what should you do to get the best out of them?

Schedule Catch-Ups

If you don’t have any opportunities to have an impromptu catch-up with a team member, you will have to make one. Remember that if they are working away from you and other team members they are getting nearly none of the interactions that you generally take for granted. So schedule a simple phone catchup with them 2 or 3 times a week. You will be surprised how much difference a 30 minutes of conversation a week makes and the amount of valuable information that can be transferred. Also make an effort to schedule a less frequent team-get-together, say a monthly Friday afternoon tools-down session over a videoconference so that everyone gets to catch up.

Involve Them

While you and the rest of the team are discussing problems and making decisions, your remote staff are not getting any of that benefit. Some people may think it is acceptable to just send an update on the decisions made to remote staff, but that probably constitutes 10% of the useful information that was discussed. Make an effort to involve your remote workers in the discussion so that they do not feel excluded and the whole team benefits from everyone’s input.

Set Well Defined Tasks

While this post may imply that remote team members are a bad thing, there are also benefits. For a software engineer, it is a great opportunity to get in ‘the zone’ where everything just flows through the keyboard. It’s a great place to be, but you first need to achieve it and then need to sustain it. You can help achieve it by working together to identify what aspect of your product your team member is most passionate about. And you can sustain it by fully agreeing the specs of the task. If a task is not fully specified then questions and queries will be raised and this takes you out of ‘the zone’.

Share The Plan

All team members need to know where their work fits in amongst the overall plan. This is easy when you are working side-by-side, but when working remotely this is no longer trivial. So use on-line planning tools to make it easy for people to understand the whole plan and see how all the tasks fit in to it. With a little extra encouragement the team should also be updating their progress and so the question of ‘how is everything going’ can be answered easily whether you are in the office or working remotely.