Friday 16th August, 2013
Normally I don’t have too much trouble thinking of things to write for our weeknotes, but this week I have been extremely pre-occupied as some of the upcoming changes to the way that GFR works play through my mind, and I think through the perspectives and consequences that will have, leaving the inside of my head sounding a lot like this:
Why not press play while you read the rest of these notes?
Anyway, one potentially interesting thought I have had relates to a conversation I had with Chris this morning about “always doing the next most important thing”. I think it’s given me a bit of insight into some of the ways that other people in GFR think and work, and why my perspective might be slightly different.
The Next Most Important Thing
We’re used to applying this principle when developing software – we don’t expend time and effort building parts of a system that aren’t required yet, and making sure that the story you’re working on is delivering value soon is a useful remedy to some of the do-this-then-that-then-this waterfall-style approaches that feel more natural to clients.
However, I realised that “always doing the next most important thing” depends heavily on how you measure what’s important. One of the points of friction I’ve been feeling relates to prioritising some activities that definitely don’t deliver clear value to our company in the short term, but are important for some of the longer-term goals that we had.
Some things have value but will never seem like the next most important thing
Writing on this blog is an example of a longer-term investment, because in some part this is building an audience (that’s you, faithful reader) who will then be more likely to hear about projects/products we’d like you to hear about and share with your friends.
For a business like ours, it’s also desirable to develop a sustainable and regular rhythm that includes all our different types of work (client, product, exploratory/undirected). Developing this rhythm isn’t easy though, but it’s a longer-term investment because it better equips us to keep multiple threads of focus active at the same time and thus be more responsive to opportunities and changes in circumstance, instead of delivering large chunks of big-bang effort to only one thing at a time (which is higher risk in terms of output value). In the short-term it probably requires some client management (giving them fewer developers or days than they might want) and even sacrifice of income in order to create the space to establish and maintain that rhythm.
Estimating importance beyond the moment
If we only measure importance by whether or not something addresses an immediate problem, or delivers some immediate benefit, then we’ll always be optimising in a very local way. Taking this approach too far means that we never invest time and effort in things that will start to pay dividends in the medium and longer term, and failing to make any investments like that will ultimately limit what it is possible for a company to achieve.
So while I agree with the spirit of “always doing the next most important thing”, measuring importance needs to balance short-term problems and opportunities with preparation to avoid future problems and investing in future opportunities.
Of course, it’s much harder to be confident about how to make these future investments. This is where plans, or goals or whatever you’d like to call them can actually play a useful role – not by prescribing specific actions, but by acting as frameworks for making decisions. They can help provide a more complete context within which to evaluate choices about what to do next, instead of only prioritising only by what delivers tangible value now.
Anyway, I hope that’s interesting. If you don’t like it, the other version of this week’s notes was going to be: “This week GFR have mostly been developing in Rails”.
But still with that NASA music, obviously. That part is inescapable.