Focus on the Small Things

A big win is inspiring

When you’re building something and reach a major milestone (such as solving a complex technical problem, overcoming issues of scale, or solving an elusive bug) it gives you and your team the energy to keep pushing forward; everything suddenly seems easier. Everyone gets the feeling that no matter what problems lie ahead they’re manageable. You and your team feel like an unstoppable force manifesting your own destiny to do something incredible.

However these types of wins are typically few and far between. As day-to-day reality sinks back in, the boundless energy and feeling of being able to surmount any challenge fades. For a short period of time everyone was energized, aligned, and motivated because they felt the momentum behind what you were trying to accomplish. If only you could capture that feeling on a more constant basis. So the challenge becomes: how do you build and maintain momentum? Because at the end of the day, that feeling of progress is one of the main driving forces behind why people will continue to dedicate themselves to the cause.

This is where breaking down what you’re trying to accomplish into small deliverable units becomes incredibly valuable. It provides you with a logical point to step back and assess progress, gather feedback, and determine the next steps. By doing this you are also able to take time and celebrate, which creates a feeling of momentum.

My team and I celebrate accomplishments on an almost hourly basis. When a branch gets merged into the mainline of one of our git repositories, a sound of the team’s choosing plays throughout the main area of the office. This might sound a bit silly, but it’s a simple indicator of our progress and provides the individual with an acknowledgement that they’re getting shit done (which helps build a culture of doers).

On top of this, every second Friday we get together (with beer and popcorn) for an all-hands meeting where every team demos what they’ve been working on (anything that improves the product or improves our ability to build the product) for the past release (we follow a structured release process as we’re building a mobile product). Not only does it create a mechanism for holding people accountable, it also provides an opportunity to collect feedback and create alignment. At the end of the meeting, after every team has demoed, you can’t help but leave energized with a sense that we’re going to overcome any challenge that may present itself.

By focusing on the small things we’re able to build energy which we leverage to propel us towards our goals. We become an unstoppable train chugging down the tracks towards our destination, the only choice is whether you’re getting on or off.