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?
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.