A deceptively simple daily planning exercise is our most important process. Read more...
UPDATE: cool conversation happening over at our hacker news post. Feel free to join in with your thoughts and opinions.
UPDATE: As requested, photos are at the bottom of the post.
A Simple Idea
About a year ago, our friend Jason taught us this really cool trick. He turned to us and asked, "Hey, what do you want to get done today?"
I replied something like, "I have meetings at 11:30 and 2, and I have to do a round of feedback on the new homepage. Other than that, I've got to update some documentation and do some QA. Oh yeah, and there's that form I need to sign and email to the accountant."
Jason wrote a few line items on our whiteboard and turned to Cameron. "How about you?" Cameron replied that he had to fix two bugs before starting to build a new feature. So Jason wrote those tasks on the board as well. As we moved through the day, Jason would put a nice checkmark next to each item on our list, indicating it was completed.
I didn't appreciate what had just happened at the time, but now this simple ritual is at the core of how we work. Our approach to this activity blends elements of a typical scrum meeting with organizational methods inspired by GTD. Since we've tweaked the process a bit, I thought it would be worthwhile to share with you too.
The Three Colour Model
Day 1: Red Marker
It's a Monday, and the whiteboard is empty. I stand and ask each person what they want to accomplish today. The goals are written on the board with an empty box next to each. It shouldn't take more than five minutes for a team of five. As we accomplish our goals, we check the box next to each task. At the end of the day, it's satisfying to see an artifact of the day's work.
Day 2: Blue Marker
We arrive at work on Tuesday, and erase all of yesterday's items, but only the ones that were completed. We have to leave the tasks that were not accomplished written in yesterday's colour. Then I grab the blue marker, and collect the team's daily goals during another five minute planning session. We work throughout the day and treat it like Monday.
Day 3: Green Marker
It's Wednesday morning, and I'm erasing all of yesterday's completed tasks. There's two blue tasks that were left unfinished, and one red task leftover from Monday. The red task is staring at me, looking real ugly, taunting me. It means one of two things: the task was either too big, and should be split into multiple tasks, or, we're bottlenecked and need to get it off our plate. No task should sit uncompleted for more than two days.
At the top of the board we keep an area for weekly tasks, which do not follow the colour coding system. Always orange, typically a list of loose ends that can be wrapped up in one massive friday-afternoon effort.
The hardest part of this system is getting the "granularity" of your daily goals consistent. But this is also where I derive the real value from this system. You don't want to micro-manage yourself, but having specific success criteria is extremely important. There is a learning curve, but it's a valuable lesson. Our general rule of thumb is to accomplish about three to five goals in a day.
Example: Good Tasks
- Update functional test
- Feedback session for collateral project
- Integrate visual elements on homepage
- As a user, when I press pause, the video pauses.
Example: Bad Tasks
- Build the website. Way too big. How about, code the rollover states on the landing page.
- Write email to chris. Not big enough. Would it be satisfying to reflect on this task at the end of the day?
- Work on project X. What part of the project are you working on?
- Start working on marketing strategy. How about, call three customers and ask them how they've used our product to solve a problem.
Why We Do the Board
Listing and publicly exposing our goals makes us more likely to accomplish them. It also gives us concrete criteria for having a successful day. Before we started doing this, I didn't know why I was having a good or bad day. Now I do, and that's awesome.
Structuring our day before we kick it off let's us stop worrying about what we're going to do next. It's like test-driven development for operations.
It's fun and satisfying to check those little boxes off. I always say "annnnd… boom." right before I check it off. It's also great to know what your team is up to, and know they're making progress right alongside you.
There is no penalty for not accomplishing a goal. But, much like pivotal tracker, the system is self-correcting. Consistent micro-planning sessions creates a great feedback loop that makes us better at estimating what we can and cannot get done in a day. I feel that I'm more likely to meet my larger commitments, and protect myself from commitments that are impossible to meet.
I'd like to write a few more blog posts about this topic, and specifically about:
- Doing the board isn't the same as personal task management
- Doing the board doesn't compete with Pivotal Tracker
- How to choose good tasks
- "Knowledge workers" can do the board too
Feel free to get in touch any time.