Productivity and the Feedback Loop

I was graciously asked by @alexduloz to write something about productivity for The Human In The Machine project @humanthemachine. Here are my thoughts.

On every project I’ve worked on, I’ve always found the moment of shipping incredibly emotional.

Whether it’s a pull request being merged into master or an insights report emailed to your client, the moment is bittersweet. On one hand your body and brain are still buzzing from the adrenaline pushing you over the finish line. On the other, the ground abruptly falls away and you find yourself peering into the void. It’s an odd cocktail of different energy and emotion but one that I believe has the potential for greatness.

A confession: I love retrospectives. I was introduced to them a few years ago when the organisation I worked for brought in some external help so the product team could “try some new things”. We were given 3-4 weeks of indulgent experimentation outside the confines of our legacy tech stack and processes, set within a safe-to-fail environment.

Our first working week was fairly chaotic. Monday was basically a simultaneous pie fight of product direction and design decisions, and full stack code commits - anything still stuck to the walls was carried over to the next morning. The days that followed were filled with continued enthusiasm at the prospect of working with new technologies but it didn’t take long for us to slip back into our existing roles and processes. We shipped something and were scratching the itch to “try something new” but it didn’t appear like we were learning anything of value. At the close of the week I felt frustrated.

Fortunately, Friday was reserved exclusively for reflection. This was something our team was not familiar with. Initially, there was some degree of scepticism as to why we needed a full day for discussing the events of the previous four. We were quickly proved wrong. What unfolded were several honest and lengthy conversations that provided us, as individuals and as a team, a voice and vote in steering the decision-making process. At the close of the day, one by one we claimed one of the spotted Post-it notes that lined the walls, with the intent of seeing through the changes that were written upon.

It was abundantly clear that the success of what came next hinged upon this last day of reflection. In the weeks that followed we saw the efficiency of our processes evolve, these constant reminders of improvement strengthened our team as a unit and gave us confidence to experiment more. Not only had we come to a decision through design rather than prescription but we’d done it by channeling the excess energy and emotion into something constructive.

Retrospectives have taught me how to recognise the opportunities to experiment and learn. Whether it’s through design or coincidence, each project shape offers new a new landscape in which to explore. Perhaps it’s solving a really wicked problem or working with client from a new sector or industry. Maybe it’s a new team structure or choosing to use a self built product to solve a problem. Whatever the difference, after your work has shipped you and your team will be brimming with ideas and opinions on what worked and what didn’t. Retrospectives are a powerful way to unlock the latent productivity within your team and propel you in a better direction.

This post was originally posted on The Human In The Machine project.