Lean performance tracking
Tue Sep 28 2021
When starting a new job, it is often difficult to know how well you are doing on your onboarding. Since not all companies have onboarding well-handled, you might have found yourself in a situation where you know too little to understand what you should achieve, but still need to know if you are moving in the right direction.
After years of switching jobs, getting new projects and learning, I’ve reflected on the practices that allowed me to hit the ground running, ideally in the right direction.
It all starts with expectations
Expectations sit at the core of this technique. Knowing what is expected of you can be difficult, so some vagueness is your friend. These can come from the conversations had while interviewing, from a project brief or from your previous experiences.
For example, while joining a company, I’ve had a list of expectations that consisted on:
- They expect a competent technical contributor
- They expect someone with a high degree of empathy
- They expect someone able to handle difficult stakeholders
This list may be very similar if you are a technical consultant, but it is also incomplete. The generalization of the expectations here is useful, as we are not incredibly sure of the problem space (yet). Once again, this technique is ideal if you are unable to get a clear view on the expectations, for whichever reason. If your scenario is clearer, you probably want a more detailed and specific technique.
Extrapolate into feats
This technique assumes you want to distinguish yourself in your efforts. Borrowing from multiple popular tabletop games, the concept of feat comes to mind: Something difficult that you have achieved, signifying you are proving yourself.
These feats are things that you can clearly say were or were not achieved, and they represent the type of work you will be doing.
Following the previous example, my feats might look like this:
- Contribute to the codebase
- Build rapport with my colleagues
- Have a conversation about the goals of the product from the stakeholder’s point-of-view
Now that we have the feats in place, it is important we estimate how long it would take us to complete them. This estimation can be loose, but it shouldn’t be exaggerated. Unlike the guesstimates your run-of-the-mill project management technique suggests, padding will not be helpful here. If I believe a feat takes a month to complete, then that is the time I should use for it.
By setting realistic estimations on when we believe these should be accomplished, we transform the feats from loose dreams into concrete time-bound objectives.
Once the time runs out, you should take some time to reflect and verify if you have achieved these feats or not, and if not, why. This reflection is the most important part, since it allows you to course-correct and continue moving forward. In case you are successful you should consider adding more feats to your list.
While using this technique, your newfound context and knowledge might lead you to believe the expectations, feats or time boundaries are no longer accurate. In these cases, the correct choice is to adapt.
It is not important if you re-evaluated or made a mistake, the important thing is for you to have enough material to measure and steer yourself towards success.
Why it works (for me)
This is something that I do by myself. This technique was born from multiple bad onboarding experiences, where it is hard to get feedback about your progress when exploring something new. New unexpected problems can come up and they might leave you feeling lost or like you are not performing.
By having this checklist of sorts, I am able to acknowledge how I am progressing and identify areas of weakness, as well as keep the impostor syndrome at bay. The self-paced nature of this technique doesn’t suffer from misaligned cadence of meetings, one-on-ones or performance reviews, so it is able to correct your course sooner, and that is agility.