Want progress? Put up a thermometer

thermometerWant progress? Put up a thermometer.

Execution is about three things: priorities, metrics, and rhythm. I have talked about this before, but today I want you to start in the middle.

You have a performance problem, it is dragging you down, and you really need to move forward. For some reason, your team is not focused, not executing, and not moving forward. Where should you start?

Pull out a big piece of paper, draw a thermometer on it (be sure to put the little lines), and before you do anything else, step back and look. (Hint: you could do this on a white board, but the idea is to make something physical, touchable, semi-permanent.)

You are going to put this up in a public place and update it every day. The scale on the side is easy enough – it takes you from where you are now to where you are “done”. But your empty thermometer needs labels.

This is the tricky part. You need to answer some questions:

  • What is it we trying to do, exactly? Write a simple outcome statement at the top of the thermometer, something like “Product X is shipped”.
  • When will “done” happen? Write a date at the top of the thermometer.
  • What will “done” look like? When the whole thermometer is red, how will you know? You need to see this in detail, because your team is doing detailed work right now, and will be doing detailed work every day. Each detail gets you to the top.
  • What actions trigger and fill the thermometer? If you get stuck on this one, imagine somebody on your team walking up to you with an accomplishment – will that get you to pull out your red marker?

This thermometer exercise is a life hack for work, or what I call a performance hack. It focuses your attention on a single goal, the actions needed to make (and measure) progress, and the little time-bound steps needed to achieve your big time-bound goal.

Until you make your goals physical, visible, and public, you are still talking to yourself. And your execution thermometer probably looks like this:


Give this tip a try, and let me know how it goes in the comments.

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