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A few weeks ago, I forgot to call a friend of mine for his birthday. We used to be close, but over the years we lost a bit of touch. Almost daily calls soon became weekly, then monthly. Sometimes even less than that.
When I look back, I wonder how it happened. I remember high school, university, then it seems all of a sudden the relationship changed, and here we are today.
As much as it feels like a sudden change, I know it was not. It was a slow, steady degradation flying comfortably under the radar for years.
It was a drift.
You may encounter several drifts in your life. You slowly get some weight. You don't read many books like you used to. You lose some touch with your loved ones.
Drifts trick you into thinking that everything is fine, because it seems that yesterday was only slightly better than today, today is not that bad anyway, and tomorrow—of course—will be better again, right?
☝️ Beautiful picture by @osmanrana on Unsplash
I know only one way of countering the drift: measuring stuff. Weight yourself regularly. List the books you read. Keep a journal and write about that beer you took with your best friend. How did it feel? And how do you feel today?
This is true in the workplace as well. Think of the processes in place within your team: are there any blind spots? Is there any piece of the workflow you have a feeling that is doing okay but you are not really sure?
You can't reliably improve anything you don't keep track of. And in that case, you can't make sure it won't get worse, either.
Last year, in our development team we started measuring our Pull Requests process. I have written about it in another post. It was a seemingly innocuous part of the process, and we had no big expectations of improvement. Boy were we wrong. Just the mere act of tracking some metrics made people way more engaged in the process, and resulted in an incredible improvement over just a couple of months.
The big takeaway for us has been not only that measuring something is useful, but that it is useful even if you still don't know how to improve, or don't have plans to. It makes the topic visible — it surfaces information that slowly build up the motivation to improve it in the future.
And it doesn't need to be precise. Let's say you routinely ask yourself (or your team) how do you feel today? And keep track of answers in a scale that goes from amazing, very good, all the way down to shit. It is very subjective and qualitative, but it is enough to create a feedback loop in which you start drawing correlations between events with metrics, making you naturally gravitate towards behaviour that improves them.
This is because most of the value doesn't come from the measurement itself. It comes from the intent of measuring. It comes from providing attention to something, signalling that you care.
The End Game
In the long run, the feedback loop reverses the drift into its arch enemy: compound growth. The process drives you in the right direction with little effort, because it has become ingrained in your habits.
At the beginning, things progressively get worse because you don’t spend any energy on improving them. By setting the right process and habits, you eventually come to a place where you STILL don’t spend any energy, but things improve on their own.
Hey, I am Luca 👋, thank you for reading through this post! Every two weeks I write something about making software, working with people and personal growth. If you haven’t already, you can subscribe below to receive new posts in your inbox!
Hi Luca! I find very true your comment about the importance of processes visibility in project management, and how the act of measuring does not find its value in the measurement itself but in the mental posture - defined as 'intent of measuring' in your article - that you acquire toward the phenomena itself. This mental approach should be open and with no other goal than an understanding of project dynamics, to eventually provoke the object of the measurement with a change in order to observe if the reaction of it is in line with the business/management objectives. It would be nice to hear from you if you have any comment to share about how to select a good metrics and how to spot vanity metrics instead. Thank you for your post and keep going on!