Links for Week 17, 2019

How a world-class design agency organizes files
Alex shares their striaght-forward process to ensure everyone stays aligned. The Incoming and Outgoing folders are a great idea.

Implementing user insights: how to get started in a single morning
Lauren Pope breaks down a fast-tracked approach to integrating user centric thinking into any design process.

Highlighting stakeholder and leadership misalignment
Maxim (@round) shared one of his go-to stakeholder interview quesitons. I always ask for measure of success, but never thought about asking about their leadership's measure.

Workshop exercise: How would you make your company obsolte
Richard Banfield (@RMBanfield) shared a novel workshop exercise to get leadership thinking about growth:

Schedule Time to Focus

I have a fairly busy job as a director at a Fortune 10 company. I have a 12 person team, 9 major projects, three massive initiates for the year, and teams in three states and two countries. It got to be where my job was managing me. Here’s a look at a typical day:

6:00 am – Wake up, shower, feed the dog.
6:45 am – Leave to catch the train
7:15 am – Board train. Quick planning call with my team or sort email
8:15 am – Arrive at the office. Make coffee and get settled.
8:30 am – Process email
9:00 am – Meeting
9:30 am – Process email. Team is arriving, so I’m starting to field questions here and there
10:30 am – Meeting
11:00 am – Impromptu feedback with some of the team
11:30 am – Brief firefighting call with someone on my team
12:00 pm – Lunch
12:45 pm – Email meeting minutes and do a few other small tasks I signed up for from past meetings
1:00 pm – No meeting, awesome. Now… what should I do….
1:15 pm – Quick status chat with someone on the team
1:50 pm – Right, back to email
2:00 pm – One-on-one with someone on the team
2:30 pm – Meeting
3:30 pm – Catch up on email, and answer a few questions and provide a bit of feedback
4:00 pm – Meeting
5:00 pm – Catch the train home, wrapping up email or small tasks

Looking at that schedule, you’d think email is a primary initiative, right? Of course it’s not.

With such a fragmented day, I had no time to focus. The only thing I could complete in the short 15 minutes of free time was one or two emails.

My productivity went down, night-time working went up, and overall job satisfaction went down. Time to inflict some changes

Make Time for Work

First change I made was blocking out time in the morning and evening to do actual work. For this, that means creating repeating ‘Work’ blocks on my calendar. One wonderful-yet-terrible feature of Outlook is that it allows people to see your calendar is free so they can schedule a meeting. Similar to Parkinson's Law where work expands to fill the time available, the number of meetings will expand to fill your day if you allow it.

High Priority Work First

Now that I had dedicated time to work, I made sure to working on the highest-priority tasks first when I’m fresh and thinking clearest. I’ll fit the low-priority tasks in the small windows of time between meetings or in my evening work block. I use Things to constantly track tasks that need doing.

Plan the Day

The last thing I do (normally on the train) is review my schedule and to-do list for the next day. I choose the high-priority items and assign time-slots in my morning work-blocks for the next day. Now I relax for the night, knowing what tomorrow holds.

First thing I do when I start my workday is block my calendar for the day. I don’t accept any day-of meetings, unless it’s with my team or mission critical. This keeps me proactive throughout the day and keeps my plan mostly on track.

New Schedule

6:00 am – Wake up, shower, dog, train, etc.
8:00 am – Work!
11:00 am – Meetings, ad-hoc team feedback, etc.
2:00 pm – Every day I have a 1 hour one-on-one with someone on my team. Everyone rotates on a two-week cycle.
2:30 pm – Meetings, ad-hoc team feedback, etc.
4:00 pm – Work!
5:00 pm – Catch the train home and plan tomorrow’s work

Ahhhh, that’s better, right? Well, so far so good. I’ve only been doing this a month or two, but it’s already feeling better.

Scaling Through Quality

In my professional life, I’m always finding myself needing to do more. Needing to scale. I’m sure everyone runs into this eventually. As you get better at your craft, develop a reputation, amass more clients, etc., your time becomes more and more limited.

A lot of people approach this by working faster, pumping out more and more work, all while quality is slowly slipping away. This is the danger zone. A slippery slope.

Don’t do this.

Instead, work slow. Be methodical in your craft. Focus on the process. Enjoy the work. Produce the highest quality work your craft demands.

Now, when it’s time to scale, look back to your past work and use that as a lever, a pattern of good work, that can inform and speed your task at hand.

This is why design patterns are all the rage—they work.

Have an Opinion

Seth Godin says one of the greatest things you can do is run a blog because it forces you to have an opinon. Time and time again I see confirmation that having an opinion leads to better career opportunities.

You become the expert on a topic. Or the critic who can always find the fetal flaw in the plan, and having your blessing is the first step towards success. Or people want you at their conference or event to hear your opinions. You get the point...

Of course, having an opinion doesn’t mean you’re always right. People often ask ‘but what if I’m wrong?’. Well, then you’re wrong. Life goes on. Even better, someone who lays out the research and facts to why they’re changing their opinion is fantastic. It helps others to learn with you. It shows maturity, growth, and mindfulness.

Anyway you slice it, having an opinion is a good thing.

Point of view is worth 80 IQ points –Alan Kay

Sometimes it's hard to have an opinion. Opinions come from experience. From seeing successes and failures. From watching things fall apart from the inside. You wouldn't expect someone to have an opinion about a book they've never read, right? It's hard to form opinions without experiencing.

It means creating things, and more importantly, sharing them with the world. It means talking with other and deciding if you agree. It means trying new things. It means getting out of your comfort zone. It means learning how other fields can impact and influence your field. Forming opinions means having experiences.

Back to Seth’s advice; it’s no use in having opinions if you’re not sharing them. Whether it’s in meetings, on your blog, in conferences, or when mentoring. How will you learn if you don’t share and get feedback? Worse, how will others learn if you don’t share?

You’re already an expert in something. And you know a great deal about other things. Give back to the world and share your thoughts. We’re waiting.

The Case for Outputs

Scrolling through twitter I stumbled across Barry’s post—Your Mission is to Produce Outcomes, Not Outputs—it got my interest immediately. As I was reading Barry’s post, I found myself nodding my head. A lot of good points. But I think it’s easy to miss what Barry is stressing, which is essentially to deliver value you can measure. So many people interpret this as ‘skip documentation and just ship something’. But that’s not the case at all. Sure, outputs aren’t typically a business model, but they’re tools that enable speed and quality.

In many cases, the maturity and size of the team determine the need for outputs. For a small, stable team, where the vision is clear and there are no blockers, many outputs could be skipped. But for large teams, often with various layers of stakeholders, outputs can help a team fire on all cylinders, reduce duplication, and quickly transfer context.

Yes, businesses survive on outcomes

Essentially Barry is saying the only real deliverable that matters is the outcome—the thing that moves the needle. Process maps don’t generate value, but a product that eliminates those process pain points might be worth more than gold. Outcome-based businesses value results. If your customers don’t succeed your effort is wasted—regardless of all the output you create along the way.

So many times, teams are showing dashboards of vanity metrics, or chart porn. These outputs make the team look busy, but it’s the same type of busy as hamsters on their wheels.

However, there can be a case made for outputs with outcomes. Outputs can be key to making sure outcomes are targeted, relevant, and impactful.

Outputs help makes success repeatable

Some products just work—AirBNB, Instagram, etc. There was a clear hole, the founders knew the space and how to solve it, and they nailed it. In these cases, the founders were scratching their own itch—they knew the problem space well. So why doesn’t everyone just do that? Well, it’s hard. And often times, teams are paid to scratch someone else’s itch. A lot of teams have found that a process can help them repeatedly hone a solution into a valuable product. A process, or checklist, is a way of ensuring you don’t forget key steps when you’re tired, excited, or just pressed for time.

These checklists often generate outputs that serve as inputs into next steps. For example, in the product design world, we generate personas to better understand the type of users we’re targeting—these are typically in the form of presentation slides or poster outputs. We then use those personas to map their journey in a given scenario and highlight their pain points (typically delivered as a poster). Then we co-create solutions around those pain points, validate, then integrate those solutions into our product. We follow this process whether it’s a new product or existing, digital or physical. It always works. If we jumped right into the journey map, we might gloss over one of our most important personas.

But checklists aren’t just for product development or innovation. Many industries use checklists to ensure a thorough job is complete—safety inspectors, pilots, and even busy shoppers. In fact, pilots depend on them for every flight. Yet we don’t say ‘a pilots job is to fly, not check lists’.

Checklists help us stay on track, and follow a process we’ve proven to work.

Outputs can reduce duplication

Often times different products within a business or organization will share similar users, scenarios, workflows, etc. In those cases, teams often dig up past project outputs to get a better understanding of what we know, what we don’t know, and what to validate. Now, typically we don’t take those old outputs as gospel, but it provides a baseline to validate and build on.

Without those past outputs, we start over fresh. This not only burns additional cycles, but it can start to negatively impact your stakeholders. If you interview a key executive every year asking similar questions each time, by the third time they might not accept your call.

Similar to history, if you don’t learn from your past outputs, you’re doomed to repeat the same discovery.

Outputs transfer knowledge

But the most powerful use of outputs is to preserve the context of the work. It could be helping the customer understand the impact of your findings or vision, or merely to educate so they can empathize better.

In large enterprise companies, it’s not usual for teams to morph over time—team members get promoted, move to other teams, or even other companies. Outputs help the team document knowledge along the project in meaningful ways, onboard new team members, and quickly answer ‘why are we doing this?’.

Rather than depending on tribal knowledge over time, new team members can review a few key outputs and get up to speed in no time.

Outputs create the outcome

Okay, not really. But often times, a proven process often generates and iterates outputs, and those outputs become inputs for future steps, and so-on. Those outputs and iterations will help ensure you’re making good decisions. It will help make sure your final solution is on point. It will help track your success, and know when you get there.

Move fast but don’t break things

Facebook’s motto used to be ‘Move Fast and Break Things’. Now, I have no idea how Facebook actually works, but hearing that motto and things like ‘Outcomes over Outputs’ always conjures images of bus-boys rushing to clean tables and get dirty dishes back to the kitchen only to have a bin full of broken dishware.

Barry is right—don’t fetishize outputs, because outcomes are the real value. But don’t throw outputs out the window; just find the right output. Realize they’re tools that can often help large teams get to value faster and more often.