How we continuously improve productivity

How we continuously improve productivity

Before you start reading this, just a little heads up. Some of the contents on this article are completely faithful to the reality, but others are purposely exaggerated for dramatic or comedian purposes. Enjoy!

It’s hard to talk about productivity. It is probably so hard to talk about it as it is to measure it.

This is particularly difficult for people focused on Business Development. Like me. Hi, I’m João and I’m a new guy here at Whitesmith.

Sorry about my look, but is a bit late and I'm still at the office writing down this article!

Ever since I joined Whitesmith last month I’m living a new challenge and adapting to a completely new reality. The startup reality. And it is challenging as hell! I’m gathering new clients for our business pipeline and trying to sell our two first products. I’m always worrying about my productivity because I need to be very focused to take care of all this. Not that I’m the person responsible for all this but mainly because people are counting on me.

So productivity has been a key topic for me right know.

For that reason, I decided to talk about that in this post, mainly my suboptimal productivity, and how Whitesmith is helping me improve that.

Well, to begin with, this is awkward. I’m basically confessing to my boss, my peers and to everyone on the internet that I’m not being productive in my job. Not that I spend all my days seeing kitten videos on Snapchat, but because I know I can do much more.

Ok… I haven’t been fired yet, so… Let me continue…

First of all my boss, I like to call him “CEODA” (CEO+YODA), already knows about my unproductive sprees and is always giving me awesome advice about how to improve this. Not pointing out what I’m doing wrong, but instead helping me to improve.

I love Yoda!

Well, unproductive is a state I’m always trying to avoid. As you imagine startup business is about momentum and fast pace. I confess, in my previous jobs I was used to a more stable environment, where pressure was not so intense. Don’t get me wrong, here at Whitesmith we have freedom to work from where we want and when we want, but we also need to establish our own objectives and share them with the team. Commitment brings pressure, but the good kind of pressure. And help us staying productive even when procrastination monkey appears!

This culture of sharing, commitment and responsibility is the most rewarding thing I’ve noticed from working at Whitesmith since the beginning. To be honest, there are three main points of our culture that I realized during the first week, without anyone telling me:

  • Remote First: everything we do must privilege remote workers. It is difficult sometimes, believe me! It is a constant battle but is the part of our culture that is more amazing for me. Mainly because all our work is actually remote first in the sense that someone working remotely should have the same experience and ability to contribute as someone in the office. We are always trying to ingrain that culture in new people. Our meetings, our activities, our documentation are remote first.
  • Be happy doing what you love: one thing I really love here is that everyone is passionate about their work. Well, I’m not gonna lie, sometimes we get pissed off, we shout with each other, we get mad, we may need to take a quick break from everything and everyone, but basically at the end of the day, we are like a group of friends committed to our company and our jobs. We love all these difficulties, and they make the team tighter and stronger.
  • Share everything. From a guy who was used to use email or skype as a primary communication tool, using Slack is like starting to use the SmartPhone after using the Bipper, it is JUST AMAZING! We use Slack for everything! Even over personal conversation (this is part of our remote first approach) we share everything on slack, mainly to make communication part of our inner culture.

This “share everything” culture has several objectives, that are really easy to understand, such as transparency, access to info to make the right decisions and the ability to help each other at any difficulty. This is another piece of the process to improve our productivity but also to help us establish more realistic objectives.

Most of us, especially me, have a bias for establishing too many objectives for the day, week or month work. You should see my “To Do List” sometimes, it seems the Thanks Giving Turkey Recipe, with items everywhere!

My to do list is as messy as a thanksgiving turkey recipe, but a lot less tasty

Well, this is a major problem because at the end of the day I will not only fail to reach those objectives but I also need to manage others’ expectations and also mine! False expectations on our own work can bring very bad results in the medium term. We demoralise and that reflects in our work. So, to overcome this double-edged problem, and avoid crying in the corner of the room and sleepless nights we established different mechanisms to improve our culture of productivity, and that’s basically what I’m going to share with you today.

At Whitesmith we have a four step process to help us improve our impact over time and establish objectives not only for us but also to the company:

  • Daily review: It is a 15-minute standup meeting between team members. The objective is to remove blockers and try to make small improvements in projects on a daily basis, establishing small milestones with small, logical steps. This approach also helps us simplify more complex tasks. Establishing complex objectives on a daily basis may not seem a problem in the short-term, but could become one in the future. I can share with you my daily objectives, let’s see for June 14th:

  • Contact 4 potential leads from our main channel;
  • (SPOILER ALERT!) Request budget from IKEA to our new office;
  • Clean up my mail inbox.
  • Review Qold proposal for a prospect enterprise client;
  • Review project deliverable with guidelines for field testing;
  • Review schedule for London trip next month;
  • Write down objectives and work plan for summer internships;
  • Qold Weekly meeting (spoiler alert this is the next thing on my list).

Basically, I present this to my team, gather feedback from all team members and discuss the bottlenecks.

  • Weekly meeting: These are a little different from daily meetings. These are focused on the problems we faced during the week, how we can overcome them and avoid them in the future in specific projects such as Qold or Unplugg. Sometimes, these meetings are quite challenging for someone who’s not used to this kind of sharing culture. Open yourself to criticism from your own team is not easy. But is part of our culture. In these meetings, we also discuss what went well and how we can replicate that in the future. The objective of these meetings is to improve the project execution, making small changes in the process every week. The goal is, small improvement every week can become a huge improvement in the long term.

The last Weekly Meeting of Business Team! Keep shipping!

  • One-on-one: These are my favorite. One-on-ones. The name is self-explanatory. Basically is a meeting with CEODA and we are not supposed to talk about specific projects, but instead about our company culture, what pissed us off during the week, major problems, major difficulties, what’s making us happy, how we can improve the company and ourselves. For example, the last one-on-one I talked about my lack of productivity and instead of threatening me, we both discussed how I should improve my productivity, or establish more realistic objectives for myself. For example, I was having a hard time during our daily meetings about business development. As I already told these meetings are amazing, but they used to take too long, half-hour, sometimes 45 minutes. Just too much and sometimes I didn’t have the time to lunch, even though they are around lunch time… So in one of these one-on-one’s talking with the CEODA we decided to review the process and start writing our objectives previous the meeting and discuss only the bottlenecks… More, we use dropbox paper checklists and we can see in real time our evolution and our peers evolution. It was just a minor improvement but our daily standups usually take just 15 minutes! Major productivity improvement!
  • Monthly gathering: Well this is basically the wrap-up from all the previous meetings. In this case, we have a company meeting, where all people get together at lunch and our CEODA hosts the monthly review of our projects. How the projects are going, new projects, closed projects, new people, new interns, how we will improve our culture during next month. Each project establishes objectives for the next month, analyse the previous month and discuss lessons learned with the company.

Last Monthly Gathering! This was the view for our remote guys! :)

Funny thing is, all these meetings are not boring time-consuming meetings. Every participant is very well aware of the objectives for each meeting and why it is important for us and for the company that we share those objectives the right way and fast! Is part of our culture.

We are focused on the results, but the process is also important, to keep everyone on the same page.

When done well, sharing is a powerful drive not only for our projects, products, and company but also for the development process itself. We are always trying to improve, this isn’t a static process.

This process is not meant to control us, but to help us share, either remotely or physically, help us manage our own expectations, and improve over time. Even if we have problems with productivity, which happens to me sometimes, these conversations help us to be more focused, more productive and, more importantly, to work as a real team.

Friends, Family and Fools!

We’d love to know your thoughts about our process and don’t forget to share your tips, please tweet @Whitesmithco.

Thanks guys!


João Nogueira

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