Make Progress Meaningful

Unless your primary concern is just waiting out the year, this is probably not meaningful “progress”:

A sort of progress…

Maybe as a measuring stick for a goal requiring consistency it might be useful; i.e., have you been consistent through the first 10% of the year so far?

Progress Isn’t Automatically Meaningful

Meaningful progress is your own, and the projects that are important to you to accomplish.

If your goal is personal, like to feel better, have you identified what will make that happen? Is there such a thing as “I’m 10% happier” or “I’m 10% on my way to happier”? Probably not. Can you identify things you can do that will make you happy and that you can check yourself against? Probably.

And if you want to accomplish a project, be sure to set some intermediate milestones and goals. Marking 10% done on a long project gives you remarkably little to be happy about. Identify achievable things you can check off as you go. You’ll feel better, understand your progress better, and be more likely to stay on track. Lots of good stuff out there on this topic and this Trello blog post is a pretty good summary.

Meaningful Progress for Teams

As an Engineering and Product Development leader I’ve seen this trap with teams too, where it may be even easier to fall into. Don’t get sucked into tracking the easy measurement, track the meaningful one.

As progress isn’t automatically meaningful you have to make it that way by having meaningful goals. Maybe you could call them Objectives. You’ll then want to determine what the accomplishments would be that you can measure against to support achieving the Objective. Maybe some Key Results?

I won’t get into the Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) framework, by now you’ve probably used or at least heard about them before. The basics (and pointers to others) are on Wikipedia and the book Radical Focus has the best accessible explanation of them that I’ve found that helps build an intuition for how to use them successfully.

The point I want to make here is that if a team has a process in place for thinking hard about what their objectives are then there must be a focus on which objectives are meaningful ones for the team and larger organization. Be ruthless on making sure your objectives are the ones that matter.

And my own experience and lesson here is that I have in the past failed to put in place early enough a process for setting meaningful objectives. While you can still get good work done before a team has scaled you likely won’t be firing on all cylinders like you should. And if you don’t start out with them early they are harder to adopt once you’ve started to scale. My next go around building something with a team I expect OKRs will be a presence from the beginning.

In Short

Progress can only be meaningful if the goal is meaningful.

Whether as an individual or as a team, don’t shortcut identifying what your meaningful goals are. For teams the OKR process (or something similar) is a great way to put in place mechanisms that keep the team on work that matters. In your non-work life you can basically do the same but feel less nerdy by not calling them OKRs. 🙂

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