When I was a product manager in Silicon Valley, my bosses were often angry with me. They were concerned that my team wasn't producing enough, and pushed me to push them. I reacted by asking the team to cut corners, stay at the office longer, and rush. Everything became an emergency.

This strategy of working longer hours to produce worse stuff was, of course, disastrous. It did not lead to happy customers or a motivated team.

Instead it lead to team burnout and customer complaints.

I (slowly) realized that this natural response to pressure wasn't speeding things up. It was actually slowing us down. I eventually learned that there are ways to speed up a team.  Ultimately, I committed to stop doing three things. If you're serious about productivity, you need to stop them too.  

1. Stop Compromising on Quality

The level of quality you're working towards must be decided at the start of a project, not when staring down a deadline.

Each product has a different level of optimal quality. For example, if you're working on a mobile game, your attitude towards data integrity--one aspect of quality--will be far different than if you're working on a finance or healthcare application.

You must have this conversation up front and agree on what you'll measure and why. This is not just for the technical team, the business must agree as well.

The moment you cut corners is the moment you'll never return to previous level of quality. And, you'll never find the time to fix the bad stuff you just shipped, instead you'll just collect errors.

This accumulation of "technical debt" will eventually destroy the team's ability to do anything of value. Every time they add something they break something else.

If you can compromise on quality, do it at the beginning. This is essential if you are building a Minimal Viable Product -- as you should be. Anything else is waste.

2. Stop Consistently Working Long Hours

To do our best work humans need time to recharge.

Not acknowledging this fundamental truth is one of the most dysfunctional habits an organization can have.

Sure, there are times when we need to sprint towards a finish line, but that's no way to run the whole race. We may be able to keep it up for a week or two, but, before long, we need a long break to make up for this emergency measure.

Everyone eventually hits a point of diminishing returns when the most productive thing to do is take a break. Or as Jason Bourne put it: "rest is a weapon."

And as leaders we need to model self care, so our employees will do the same. Working impossibly long hours may be a badge of honor in your organization, but it's not contributing to productivity.

3. Stop Working Frantically

When I see people running in an office, I get immediately concerned. Running is not something you can do all day and most jobs just don't warrant this kind of urgency.

Our work is important, but most of us are not putting out actual fires. And even rescue workers know the value of slow and deliberate pacing to avoid errors.

There are many ways to "run" so I'm not talking just your feet. If you're rushing, you're making avoidable mistakes. Eventually, these all pile up, and you'll actually be slowing yourself down rather than speeding up.

To create the most speed you must create cultural norms and process that stabilize quality, hours, and pace. Remind your team, and yourself, of your measures and their rationales. Do this up front -- and don't allow your measures to vary much.

Once you do this there are things you can do to speed up. I'll discuss these in another column soon. Stay tuned.

Published on: Jun 21, 2016
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