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Not losing focus and accepting projects will take longer than you'd like

Compass

We all want to get things done as soon as possible, preferably yesterday so we don’t have to deal with them today or tomorrow but life rarely works out as we’d like it to.

For example, we’ve been planning the launch of timesheets since the summer of 2017 but fast forward to the beginning of 2018 it still had not launched, eventually a couple of months down the road it would but we would have preferred it to have been sooner.

It takes longer than you think

If you zoom onto an individual, they might have a 40 hour week but that doesn’t mean they utilise all 40 of those hours for productive work. They have to account for distractions, getting into a problem, disruptions, fatigue and breaks. It all adds up and takes time away from getting a piece of work done.

Once you zoom out to the level of the company and multiply out by everyone else you can see how things take longer than you’d like.

It’s also a question of momentum, it’s easy to just deal with the latest problem without an overarching goal because the problem at your doorstep has a definite and close deadline for it to be fixed whilst overarching strategic goals are more opaque. You can always kick the can down the road.

This however leads to an unravelling of momentum. We’ve had this issue in the past where we’d like to do certain things but we lose momentum as we allow ourselves to get distracted. This can lead to your developers not having an idea of where you’re heading which is not a good place to be.

What we’ve done to keep momentum

RealtimeCRM marketing milestone on github

We usually try to keep meetings to a minimum because there’s nothing worse than talking in endless circles but sometimes they’re needed especially to set the strategic vision. From that we get the issues we want to deal with and then we create milestones; let’s say one milestone relates to marketing improvements and another on simplifying RealtimeCRM we then group the relevant issues under each milestone.

These milestones allow everyone to see how all the pieces will fit into the bigger picture, it allows for individuals to take ownership of certain issues and push them forwards.

The milestones have a hard deadline before hitting the next one but it allows you to organise wide sweeping changes and get them completed more efficiently. It’s like taking on debt, you want to run down one then the next one and so on and so forth instead of dividing up your forces against a multitude and eventually getting overwhelmed.

And it allows us to check in on progress, we don’t expect every week to be blowing everything out the water. It takes longer than you think and other stuff gets in the way but as long as each of our devs knows it’s there, how it fits into the bigger picture they’ll make sure time gets given to the respective issues they take on and sooner or later the entire milestone is completed.

You have to give your people ownership but also a roadmap and some kind of a vision to head towards. If you don’t then the can will just keep getting kicked down the road.

Cut the fat

The vision can sometimes be too big and too unwieldy, it just might not be realistic so you need a mechanism by which your team can say “no this isn’t going to work” and of course they explain why it won’t work but you need to be able to heed that feedback.

There’s nothing worse than planning a giant unwieldy project and finding out its more than you can take on months down the road when you’ve already laid down major sunk costs. You need to have a culture where the people on the frontline who are primarily going to execute on your plan can have the confidence to say this is too much right now.

If they’re saying its too much it’s probably way too vague and a mess, cutting down on the fat allows you to focus in on what really matters. What’s going to really add value and focus on making those pieces work really well. Otherwise you’re going to be chasing too many things and you’re not going to do any of them well.

The lessons to take away

You can’t be productive every hour of every day, and if you tried you’d see a degradation of performance.

What you have to avoid is losing momentum and focus. You have to be able to see the forest from the trees and re-organise your priorities if needs be. Perhaps the problem isn’t the goals themselves but how you’re going about it which slows things down and leaves your team unclear of the path to take.

Delays will happen, but as long as you’re chipping away every week and heading towards your vision you can still be a successful company.