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15 Feb 2021

Invisible Progress Creep

One of the best decisions I made last year was to schedule recurring calls with friends and family. No need to think about a complex “scheduling.” process. It’s just there, in the calendar. Serving as a reminder to stay in touch.

Usually, our conversations start with “What have you been up to lately?” question. And every time it’s a challenge remembering what I’ve done since the last call, that’s worth mentioning. A few improvements on a side-product. Some user-interview calls. Another blog post. But nothing too significant. Nothing worth mentioning…

Small iterations are left unnoticed over Big Moments

The tiny iterative progress isn’t registered in our brain. Instead, we think in big chunks of noticeable events, a.k.a. “Moments.”. The moment can’t happen overnight. The moment requires months or even years of work to accumulate.

We naturally filter out the day-to-day work that leads us to these moments. But in reality, one can’t live without the other. You can’t have an event to celebrate without putting in the work. So here is the dilemma. When small iterations are getting unnoticed, we can’t easily keep going to the next “Big Moment”. That’s where the sayings like: “Enjoy the journey, not the destination.” are coming from.

One environment that’s effective at hiding progress is Isolation. No matter how motivated you are inside, without external feedback, every step you do won’t stand out that much. On the other side, working with the group means being exposed to diverse opinions. What you consider insignificant, someone else might celebrate as a noticeable moment. For example, such a group could be a few customers, working closely with designers to improve product’s experience.

Speaking about groups. This problem hits even harder for teams. If you’re leading the product, you have to communicate the meaning of the work the team is doing. And you better do that regularly.

Invisible progress doesn’t mean a lack of movement. The team does the work, but results don’t lead anywhere meaningful. There is no substance behind it. Nobody wants to build features just because somebody said so. It’s so much more pleasant to know how you’re helping the customer. What particular struggle you’re solving.

Even if you work alone, the progress can disappear. Either in the group or being alone, you have to make a conscious decision to recognize the meaning of what you do. Keep the record of each iteration. Notice what you learned. Write things down. It’s pretty much the only way for humans to acknowledge anything has happened at all.

Hey there, thanks for reading!

I hope you enjoyed the article. You can reach out via Twitter if you have any suggestions or feel like chatting about product development.

Next week article: Prioritization framework for your next integration.

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