The Art of the Status Update

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What I did, what I’m doing, and where I need help

Delivering a status update is a tricky thing. It’s really easy to overwhelm people with too much information, to leave things unsaid when you need more detail, and to leave out the “I need help” part of your message. So here’s a simple proposal, modeled off of the status updates my former CEO T.A. McCann asked team members to share at Gist.

Sharing Team Information

Having a regular schedule for sharing status updates helps a lot – at Gist, we shared these updates three times a week, right before our “standup” team meetings. T.A. wanted this information because he needed both tactical (what’s going on today) and strategic (what are the larger themes) feedback to know how his team was doing. We wanted these updates so we could know what other team members were doing. The system wasn’t perfect, but it made sure that everyone who came to our Standups was ready to share (at least some of) what was going on.

So how can you write a great status update? You should write the update quickly – spending just a few minutes to summarize and share the high-level information that matters – while also identifying any blockers that you need to discuss.

A “Cookbook” for a Status

In your status report to your team, make sure you answer these three things:

  • What did you do?
  • What are you doing?
  • Where do you need help?

A great update shares enough information for team members so that they can know what you’re doing, but not too much information so that it takes a long time to process the information and respond. If you share status in this way (usually in just a few lines) you can also think about larger, more strategic questions that relate to these everyday tasks.

A Longer-Term Status Update

Because simply writing a status update every two or three days isn’t enough to answer other questions that you ought to consider, you should ask bigger questions too. These might include:

  • What’s one thing I’m doing that I should keep doing?
  • What’s one thing I’m doing that I should stop doing?
  • What’s one thing I’m doing that I should start doing?

When you take a step back and name things you should add or remove from your typical tasks, you get better at valuing your work objectively and are more likely to see it from an outsider’s perspective. Getting into the habit of keeping and delivering a status report to a team is a great way to document what you do and gives you a consistent way to check what you do.

A Year of Using a Standup Desk

I’ve been using a computer at a standup desk since April 2012 (almost a year.) When I first started using a standup desk, the key things that I noticed were that it was challenging to stand all day and that I felt more awake and able to contribute. 

Companies (especially startups) are noticing the twin benefits of standing up and of the attendant productivity gains – here’s a video demonstrating what the folks at Freshbooks are doing:

Fast forward to February 2013, and the following things about using a standup desk seem true to me:

  • Standing for long periods of time now feels natural
  • The overall fitness benefit is substantial
  • And my ability to make points as a public speaker is better

What’s the net benefit for each of these observations? Continue reading “A Year of Using a Standup Desk”

Your business people and developers need to talk – Agile Marketing Principle #6

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This is the 6th in a series of posts on Agile Marketing – the working definition of which is to “Create, communicate and deliver unique value to an always-changing consumer (or business) in an always-changing market with an always-changing product.” (here’s the original post.) Your product might be dead in the water if your developers don’t know what matters to customers. You can make this better by maintaining close, daily cooperation between the “business” people and the developers in your company.

But how do you actually do this? Developers and “business people” have different rhythms, styles of communications (and often, business hours.) There are a few things you can do to facilitate this conversation and help them to talk more – think of these as modest proposals to get all of your team members to talk more.

It’s called a standup for a reason

Three times a week (maybe on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday), you should consider having a standup meeting (yes, a literal standup meeting) for everyone on your team. If you have 20 or fewer people on your team you should be able to get through this process in 15-20 minutes. The goal of a “standup” is to state one or two things you’re working on that are your Most Important Tasks, and to ask for any help you need from the team. The goal of standing is to limit the time for the standup, focus everyone’s attention, and to give each team member a bit more familiarity with what’s going on elsewhere in the company.

Take Requests from your team and your customers

Some of your best ideas are going to come from your team. And you don’t know which team members are going to provide good ideas, so having an open-door method of taking requests is essential to build the lines of communication on your team. A simple organizational scheme is best (a 1-3 sentence story that demonstrates the idea, or a one sentence task that reinforces the story); and don’t forget to say Thank You to your team. It’s easy to forget it takes a little effort to share an idea, and acknowledging that idea is a great start.

Provide Weekly Feedback and a List of Things That Will Get Done

(I know – you read this and thought “after a while, isn’t it useless to just make a list of backlogged tasks that never get completed?”) Providing weekly feedback – e.g. a list of things that were suggested this week – gives some feedback and visibility to the team and also provides a running record of what was suggested. Adding necessary items to a short-term, medium-term, and long-term list can be really helpful. You should also make it clear that if the item isn’t on the short-term list (and that list should be limited in number) that it’s not going to get done for a while.

Bonus method: go to coffee

The best way to talk is … to get out of the office and talk. Don’t forget to take each other out for coffee and lunch once in a while – you’re both on the same team. And while you’re out to coffee or lunch – talk to each other about a few things that you think matter to your customers. More of those customer requests will make it into your product.

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