Main illustration: Beccy Brown
Process is important for any startup. But process is a means to an end. It’s never the end product.
I see lots of talented people get bogged down “running a process” and struggling to prioritize and drive what’s really important for their teams. They often lose sight of what really matters, which is Delivering Great Things, As Fast As Is Humanly Possible™.
As managers we put processes and mechanisms in place to enable our teams to do well. But processes alone won’t guarantee success. And too much of it, or too much tweaking of it, can make it hard to remain focused on what really matters.
Great people, with great attitudes, working hard, with urgency and pride in their hearts, guided by “just enough” process will deliver great results.
Time is precious – spend it where it matters
Life is short and opportunities are fleeting. Companies go bust, great teams break up, economic forces change, your own personal circumstances change. Seriously, time is short, don’t waste it on unnecessary process. So if you love what you do, make it your life’s work. Ask yourself, if this is my life’s work, am I proud to say that the work I’m doing now will be my legacy?
If it all ended today, would you be proud of the last few weeks?
If you look back over the last week or two week sprint, think about how you worked, how you hustled, how you learned, how you taught and helped, how you cared and reflect on what you actually achieved. If it all ended today, would you be proud of the last few weeks and hang your career hat on your accomplishments and trajectory?
Then ask yourself the same things but this time about your team. Hopefully, you’re really happy with the answers. I’m pretty happy with mine to be honest. I’m standing tall today.
But if you’re not, why not? What are you going to do about it? What is your team going to do about it? When are you going to start building your legacy, your life’s work, and working and achieving in a way that you’re really proud of? Work that you will be proud to tell your kids and grandkids about, back in the “good old days” before robots took all our jobs. Who’s going to pull you up and get you into this mindset? Wouldn’t it feel better to be able to say you did it yourself? Yes. Yes it would.
Changing your mindset
Stepping down from the soapbox for a second, I’ll share some simple ways you can get started with this mindset.
Firstly, just care about doing a great job. Be open, humble, take personal responsibility for your behaviors and actions and commit to work with people who want to work with you.
If you’re a manager, here are a few more tips…
- Make sure your team has a meaningful mission, vision, goals and metrics for success. It’s really hard for people to do great things if you haven’t provided them with an inspiring outline of what that looks like.
- Whatever process you use to “get stuff done” (Scrum, Kanban, Scrumban, Agifall, whatever Frankenstein process the hipsters think they’ve reinvented recently), it probably has some form of a retro and planning meeting. In this meeting, start it with pride. Ask your team: “Of the things we committed to deliver in the last sprint/cycle, which of them are we proud to demo to customers?” Evoke the pride, and use as a tool to inspire, recognize, reward, shame, set the bar. Yes, it’s okay to be ashamed and disappointed in each other sometimes. When the bar is high, it’s natural. If you’re doing it right, the highs will be way more frequent than the lows.
- Then talk about what else you got done. Did you meet your commitments? Did you hustle? Did you re-scope? Did you really understand what you were doing and what great looked like? Did you care enough? Did you help each other enough? Did you fight for the outcome and each other? Does it hurt if you missed it? Is your pride wounded?
- After holding each other accountable to doing great work, take a breath and reset. Remember today is day 1, not day 2. You get another chance to be your best next week. Now plan for what comes next. As a team, decide upfront what in particular you want to be “proud” of next time you sit down to do this. Take specific “pride” goals/tasks/items/outcomes/whatever. Pride doesn’t happen by accident. Plan for it, be deliberate.
If you do decide to come work for me, I’ll send you all my favorite books (one of our engineering managers Una will confirm this is true ? ) and we’ll talk through them and learn lessons together.
P.S. These are my favorite books.
Radical Candor by Kim Scott. A wonderful guide to building authentic, open, trusting relationships with the people you work with, as well as great advice and frameworks on how to encourage, receive and give feedback.
Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson. Another awesome book on how to give good feedback.
The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni. A deep description of what “Organisational Health” looks like, why it matters and some principles for how to create and sustain it.
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. A great book which helped me understand potential unconscious biases.
The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier. Will help you understand what it means to coach. Coaching is a great tool to enable growth in yourself and the person you are coaching with the least risk of coming off as a “micro-manager”.
The Alliance by Reid Hoffman. Insightful thoughts and tools on how to think about career development for yourself and for the people who depend on you for it.
Winners: And How They Succeed by Alastair Campbell. Love him or loathe him, this book contains great insights gleaned from world leaders in sport, politics and business that can be used to augment your thinking on how to build a great team and achieve great things.
The Happiness Advantage by Sean Actor. To be successful, first focus on being happy. This book makes a compelling argument for this principle and gives you thoughtful ideas and advice on how to do it.