About a week ago, we had a retro. One of the things that was brought up was the sense that management felt that the team was not delivering as much as we could be. There are a number of reasons for this. For one, the higher ups work in Perth, a good 3,452 KM away from Melbourne. Another was that a lot of the work the team deals with is experimental in nature: more R&D vs. product development (a large portion of it involves dealing with a lot of barely supported, and completely undocumented APIs for MacOS).
Nevertheless, it was a bit of a downer that management felt this way. A solution proposed by a team member was to maintain a work log. Doing so would give the product owner, who works in Perth, the ammunition needed to push back on the notion that the team was just sitting on their hands. Prior to the pandemic, I started keeping a bullet journal, which helped me keep on top of things that I needed to do. But this would been different: it would essentially be keeping a log of what I did, and how I did it.
Last week I started to do this. I took a silly little web-app that I built for maintaining a “now” page (which I never used), and started to use it a bit more like a journal. I added it as a web panel in Vivaldi so that I could open it whenever I was in the browser. Every so often while I’m working on a task, I would quickly jot down a paragraph of what I just did. If I got stuck, I would write down what the problem is and my thoughts on how I can get out of it. I originally thought about setting up a reminder to do this like once every 30 minutes, but I found that simply journalling the thoughts as they come work quote well. At the end of the day I usually had at-least 3 bullet points on what I was working on (the record was 12) and at the beginning of the next day, I cut-and-pasted these bullet points into the Jira work log.
It’s too early to say whether this would help dispel the notion that the team is not delivering; we may get an update from the product owner when the next retro comes around. But I’ve found the process actually quite useful for myself. I’ve forgotten how beneficial it is to write my thoughts down as they come, and I’ve never used a process like this before: everything up to date has been simply todo items or scrawls of the next task to look at.
I learnt this morning that this is not a new concept. Dave Winer wrote a blog post about this in 2009, called Narrate Your Work which talks about how he adopted this practice at UserLand. I guess the same thing could be helpful here. After all, you could probably say the place I work at is distributed in nature, given that there exist a whole continent between the two offices.
It’s only been a week so the habit has not fully settled in but I hope to continue to do this.
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