Measure confidence not progress


Photo by Edu Lauton on Unsplash
26 March 2019

Is it done, yet?

Early in my career I had a wonderful CIO/manager who would frequently drop by the “dev cave” and ask (in jest, in the span of about 10 seconds) “Is it done yet? … How about now? … Now?” 😉

It’s a familiar question to anyone who’s ever managed a “project”. And it’s a fair question to ask: as a stakeholder, I believe that this thing will provide some value and I want to know when I’ll start to realise that value. And if it feels off track, I want to help.

For team members, measuring progress is an easy way to feel good about what we’re doing. “Ooo look! We’ve done a thing! Let’s celebrate!” and, while it’s great to have a bias for action and “doing things”, it’s critical that we link these things to measurable, significant outcomes that support the organisation and the people in it.

Otherwise, we risk becoming a “feature factory” and focusing on outputs rather than outcomes. As teams move away from projects, towards products and services, thinking less about features and more about outcomes we need a different kind of conversation.

OKRs are a great way to start this conversation and shift away from tactics towards outcomes.

If you’ve picked good Key Results which are difficult to reach and easy to measure, then reporting on progress (or change) is trivial…maybe even boring. E.g. “We want 10k new customers and we now have 6k.”

Okay… great. So what? Now what?

Even if progress is “good”, it’s a weak question with a weak answer. We ask for progress but what we really want to know is:

  • Will this thing actually happen?
  • What’s holding us back? Do we need help?
  • Is it time to escalate?
  • How effective have our tactics been so far?
  • As a stakeholder, should I offer to help?
  • Should I revisit my own strategy or other tactics?
  • Should I rethink my own delivery which is dependent on this thing?

Measuring progress skips over the story of how we got here, what we’re going to do about it and, critically, how we feel about how things are going so far.

Measuring Confidence

Feelings are important. They’re a gateway to incredibly rich, nuanced, and informative conversations.

When I check in on OKRs with a team, I always look at individual confidence first, on a scale of 0 to 5. Then we look at events which are driving this confidence. A change in “progress” is often a driver of changes in confidence, but if you start with progress you’ll miss a lot.

Different people respond to events in radically different ways. This is terrific. It’s why we work in teams and why diversity is so critical. But we have to ask how people interpret things, and why?. Why do you feel so confident? What happened that’s making you feel less confident? What beliefs do you have? What assumptions are you making?

Leading to action

Once you’ve had a conversation about confidence, you’re ready to take action: What would improve your confidence? What shall we do next? What tactics do we want to apply to try to reach our strategy?

Sharing confidence

As teams and leaders, we’re often taught that we should be confident, bold, decisive. I prefer cautious optimism. Making your confidence public and (most importantly) sharing your tactics for improving your confidence is a wonderful way to ask for help, engage your peers and stakeholders, and really understand how your activities impact your confidence so you can make real progress.

All of this is a version of What? So What? Now What? where we look at the facts, see how they make us feel, and decide a course of action. None of this happens unless we first ask: How do you feel?

How are you using confidence in your teams? Please let me know!

Tags:  OKRs 

Want to go deeper?

I'm available for OKR training and coaching as well as work in programme/portfolio/project management, Agile coaching, DevOps/SRE, and Continuous Delivery. Check out my OKR consulting page or my CV. If you'd like to learn even more, please get in touch.