Way Pointing

Every machine is made of moving parts

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Consider building a house.

At first there is barren land. The foundations are dug, the walls erected and the roof created. Next, the rooms, plumbing and electrics are added. Finally the rooms are filled with things and the garden is created.

This is a simplified overview, but even in this broad strokes approach at each point in the process there is a visible milestone. Productivity is visible and progress by all who view the building being created can be seen.

During this progress all those who work on the project can quickly assess their own work and assess how it fits with those around them. If a tradesman requires more space than was originally planned due to an oversight, others can adapt their work around them to fit correctly. Humans are built to quickly size up tangible things and understand how they fit in to their surroundings.

For a species that depends heavily on its senses to judge everything. When a task is virtual or imaginary it is hard to conceive a tangible step forward. Virtual things such as software lack a physical geography.

You can point to how many lines of code have been written, but is that only 1/10th of what needs writing or is it nearly all of it?

Does that even matter?

How much is done, and what is a warning sign to a manager that work isn’t progressing as fast as predicted?

Are we even building the right thing, what does it look like?

These types of questions promote stress and frustration in a team which can de-rail a project and slow down production, leading to a drop in quality or mistakes.

To allow the brain to comprehend progress, break down an idea in to small tasks. Set a fixed amount of time to tackle each one individually. This creates a framework enabling you to focus on details and create a polished solution. When a task is completed the progress made is visible in the task list; providing response and reassurance on progress and retaining enthusiasm.

This is the approach adopted by many modern team processes such as Sprinting, Agile and Scrum. Regardless of the approach your team decides to adopt, or if you find yourself on a team that does not practice any of these similar processes. Boil each larger task down to its smallest reasonable components and estimate your own timescales against them. Keep a record yourself. If a manager or other team member needs to understand your progress, or the tasks you believe you need to achieve you can quickly and easily contextualise where you are, what you have done and where you are heading.

Communicating these three concepts regularly with your team will orientate others as to where they need to be and what they need to achieve.

Now consider you are a manger or leading a team. How do you co-ordinate your team and ensure they all perform their best and work as one cohesive unit, moving towards a united goal?

The military utilise way-pointing in an effort to meet their objectives. The commander will express a desire such as “we need to occupy that structure”. Each team leader receives this brief. They then co-ordinate between squad leaders where the teams need to be in order to take the structure. Each leader briefs their team on what their individual objective is. All teams are given control over their individual task. Team members are trusted that they can do their job and self-organise. But each task is broken down to a smaller tasks making it comprehensible (not abstract) and achievable. If anyone is unable to achieve their objective, it is immediately clear to everyone else where the problem has occurred and needs addressing.

This process of breaking down tasks and trusting team members to each do the job they specialise in. Promotes job satisfaction and trust in a team but keeps the larger team engine working. Not removing team members ability to think for themselves and allowing them to react to minor situations as they are encountered empowers team members and brings a team together.