From Scatterbrained to Focused

Imagine having to build software without clear instructions. This was how one of my software jobs started. My boss would routinely send me e-mail requests for features to be built from his boss. Let’s call his boss “Bob” for the sake of simplicity. Unfortunately, Bob was about as clear as a 7 year old talking with food in his mouth when putting together requirements. To make matters worse, requirements would shift constantly without being communicated in a streamlined manner. You would find out later in the day that Bob had changed the requirements, but he only told the sales team instead of all stakeholders. In my most memorable meeting, we went in assuming that other stakeholders had the requirements from Bob only to find out all we had were separate incongruent pieces of information which would change at any moment like a mutating virus. It was similar to getting random puzzle pieces and not getting to look at the cool picture on the box so you at least have a clue. That is one hour of my life I will never have back.

Roll of the Dice
The possibility stuff would be developed on time and to spec was a crapshoot. At first, upon getting these e-mails, I would just freak out because it was my job as a development manager to make sure these features were built correctly with our developers. Initially features from our backlog were managed by our development vendor through a Google Spreadsheet. There was one weekly meeting where we talked about priorities. Most of the time our vendors were asking us for clearer requirements so progress was not great. Team morale was low since this was the way they were used to working. One of the first things I did since we did not have any project management tools at our disposal was to use Asana to manage our backlog. This helped initially but we needed something more powerful, and we needed it fast.

About a few months into my role we hired an amazing software executive that helped to build out our agile practices. We went from weekly meetings to daily scrums. A scrum is a quick daily meeting that lasts 20 min or less where people talk about issues or roadblocks. To speed up the meeting, any issues were taken off line after the meeting but it gave stakeholders and myself a good picture of our progress. To organize our work, we picked JIRA Agile as the software solution to manage our development. Development was broken out into 2 week sprints where we measured the amount of our work using story points and velocity. Finally we had a solution that was flexible during development. Although requirements continued to shift since Bob could never make up his mind, the team was able to deal with these changes and I was able to adjust priorities from sprint to sprint. Finally work was getting done effectively. While I ultimately left the company, the lessons stick with me to this day.

Please let us know about a crazy productivity story of yours in the comments below.


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George Huang

George Huang is a founder at ZeroToComplete where he specializes in productivity science and coaching.

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