The Benefits of Focusing on Delivery
Quality metrics make you focus on the byproduct
Quality -while important- should not be the main focus of what you do as it's a byproduct and not the product itself. Actually, focusing too much on quality can decrease your capacity to keep it and also innovate. This is why you should consider focusing on delivery metrics instead.
A perfect example to illustrate the difference is an experiment done by a photographer with students at the University of Florida (discussed by James Clear in this episode of the Art of Charm about Mental Model).
The class was split in two sections:
The first section had a quality metric: they needed to always produce good looking pictures and focus on the outcome.
- The second section had a quantity metric: they had to take a lot of pictures all the time.
At the end of the semester, the group with the quantity metric outperformed the group with the quality metric, which seems counterintuitive at first.
But after analysis, they discovered that the students in the quality group spent most of their time theorizing about what was making a great picture. Meanwhile the students in quantity group were sharpening their skills taking pictures, learning as they go about lightning, perspective, composition,...
You can easily explain this outcome as the later group was forced to practice, which is known as the only way to acquire and master any skill.
However, there is to me, something additional making the quality focus perform worst than the lack of practice: the fear of failure. Once you know that any delivery can potentially decrease your quality metric, you stop trying. Arguing instead of delivering or moving to a "method" position becomes a no brainer.
Ironically, focusing on the quality makes you practice less, and impede risk taking which are both required to improve quality and foster innovation.
Real World Example: Software Engineering
Real world examples of the behavior shown in the study can be found in software engineering. Computer Science is a huge business. But if you look closer to the authors writing the books and methods, you soon realize that most if not all of them do not ship any software anymore.
Their work is to sell you their products and make you think that if you do not follow the latest trends or do not know all the software patterns and their names, you are doing it wrong. A quick view on social media and forums shows people debating all day about programming languages, way to code, naming conventions, indentation of code, functional programming vs object oriented programming and so on.
In essence they are debating on who is right and what makes software great; just like in the photography experiment. And while they do so, they do not practice, they do not improve, they do not deliver.
And just like what you see in the self-help book industry, you spend all your time reading about numerous ways to improve. Every book tells you they are right and others are wrong. As a result, the more you read, the more you fuel your Fear Of Missing Out and your aversion of trying. After years, you end up stacking self-improvements books; without improving as you focused on the easy part: arguing, instead of the hard part: practice.
And this is where, I think, focusing on delivery metrics can help.
Delivery is the metric of Practicing
Tracking what you produce has multiple benefits:
- stop wasting your time: being caught arguing and theorizing too much shows up quickly in the metrics. It ensures you always have a healthy balance between theory and practice.
- remove the fear of trying: as you focus on the process and not the outcome, failing doesn't matter. You become more resilient.
- ensure you are practicing: focusing on the quantity forces you to practice and a lot. As Bruce Lee once said: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who had practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
- create momentum: very often, even when we work hard and produce a lot, we don't remember (a very well known flaw of the brain). Keeping track of what you do is a very good way to boost your morale and go on.
There are famous examples in the art world showing the benefits of this approach like "a sketch a day" or inktober fest. Numerous artists set themselves a goal of sketching everyday, whatever happens, whatever the result, for a month, a hundred days or more.
Improvements are really obvious: the first sketches are usually small, poorly detailed, rough. The latest ones bigger, detailed and polished. The quality IS the byproduct, not the focus. And the longest the period, the more obvious the gain in craftsmanship.
Tracking what you deliver is flexible: a sketch a day, the time spent coding, the number of articles written every month, the number of time you went to the gym... anything quantifiable.
I, for example, use a spreadsheet. Tracking daily the number of hours spent on the activities I focus on. I also highlight the days when I reach a specific milestone and found useful to document the time I waste (we are all humans). Now I have an overview of what I am producing, my leverages on the time wasted and can decide the actions to be taken.
This tool has tremendously helped me to produce more, cut on unproductive activities and sometimes realizing I was stretching myself too much by doing too many things at once.
Another way could be to use the Pomodoro Technique to keep track of what you do. Try and pick anything that works for you, as long as it’s very simple, so it doesn’t add overhead.
Setting metrics on what you produce is a simple tool to help you stay focused on what you consider essential in your life. As a result, you try more and get the answers by yourself; you practice more and increase your craftsmanship.