After a decade of working on projects with highly motivated founders and product teams that want to get stuff done, we've come to a simple conclusion: schedules can be death to team morale and great product unless you balance them by staying nimble and opportunistic. Great things only happen when a highly motivated team gets to play a little to discover new ways to do things better.
We've all experienced those crushing little blows of scheduling that bring exciting sparks to their knees. "That's a good idea, let's bring that up again at the next meeting," or, "That sounds great, but that's a P2 are signs of schedule-driven thinking. Momentum halts. The excitement that aids creative thinking passes. You have to have some of that thinking to timebox your efforts—design can't go on forever or it won't matter. Too much, though, and you will squash innovation on your team.
That is why we set expectations on a rolling five days. It removes stakeholder uncertainty without locking in early decisions. It leaves the flexibility to turn on a dime—dodging problems and seizing opportunities the team discovers along the way.
Why five working days?
It's enough time that you can set reasonable expectations and deliver great results while still giving yourself time to tinker. If you have goals spaced out over five days, you can miss the mark on the smaller stuff and catch up in areas that need more attention. At ZURB we've had some amazing success using this technique. It keeps our work energized and animated with fresh ideas. It builds momentum.
A rolling five day outlook keeps stakeholders focused on immediate results without freaking them out. Small decisions tied to long schedules are easy to project across the entire project. You need to leave room for little failures without fearing the entire project is going in the wrong direction. People get too concerned about **tomorrow** and the **end of a project**, which puts them in a reactive decision-making state. Product work needs iteration to get to the great ideas and reactive decisions will shut down great ideas that might emerge over a day or two or three.
Here's how it works:
1. You still need daily and end-of-project goals, but those shouldn't be what you focus on communicating. Each time you provide an update on your project, let your client or team know what to expect over the course of five days. At ZURB we tend to do this in bullet form attached to an email, for instance:
- Tomorrow: We'll post the third and final coded template for the dashboard page.
- Monday: We'll hop on call at 11:00AM to walk through the coded pieces. We'll also post our refined wireframes based on the feedback given earlier this week.
- Tuesday: We'll post our refined style guide that includes the global elements and templates for the site.
- Wednesday: Get your feedback on the style guide via email.
- Thursday: Post the final refined style guide to get feedback.
2. It's a bit of the chicken and the egg when it comes to starting this process— you'll be judged first on your short deadlines before you hit five days. Make sure these first project deliverables build trust and confidence. At ZURB we keep the pace brisk and the deliverables smaller.
3. Each update you give should include goals over the next five days that take the pressure off of tomorrow. This update doesn't have to happen every day, but it should be consistent throughout the project to establish that trust you need.
Leading the charge at ZURB since 1998