As a people manager or team lead, you are juggling multiple responsibilities. Two responsibilities that probably come with the territory, week in and week out, are:
- Prioritizing your time well.
- Creating visibility for your boss, peers, and team.
Of managers I’ve mentored and supervised, most had an innate understanding that they must prioritize their time. But very few arrived with a system for creating visibility1, or even thought about that as a necessary function.
Fortunately, there’s a simple system that handles both. It doesn’t require special tooling, process, or permission to implement. You can put it in place today.
At the start of the week, every week:
- List the major accomplishments of the week prior (“wins”, you may call them).
- List your top priorities for the week ahead. These are things which will ideally be next week’s accomplishments.
- Finally, list any major active challenges facing you or your team.
- Email it. To your boss, peers, and your reports2.
Here’s the template I use.
Week of <today's date> * Accomplished last week * Item 1 * Item 2 * Item 3 * Priorities this week * Goal 1 * Goal 2 * Goal 3 * Challenges, flags, & escalations * Issue 1 * Issue 2
Summarize ruthlessly. Strive for an economy of words, but use links liberally for those that wish to dive in deeper. Where possible, provide a little bit of context on the impact. If this takes more than a minute to read, you’re probably not summarizing or culling well.
Here’s a fictitious example from an engineering manager:
Accomplished last week
- v2 migration complete. Backend team migrated the last legacy customers over to the new database. Now all new features can be launched to all customers at once, big win for eng productivity
<launch thread link>.
- Launched our new insights dashboard
<link>. Please share on your team and direct questions/requests back to us!
- New frontend design finalized (
<doc>). Work is on track to start next sprint.
Priorities this week
- Spend 1:1 time with Sam to get ahead of next week’s roadmapping. Our goal is to arrive prepared with a common shortlist of project priorities.
- Get ESC-123 closed and postmortemed. While Pat remains on point, I am monitoring & will devote extra help as needed.
Challenges, flags, & escalations
- ESC-123: The payments P1 from last week is still unresolved and is being worked on by the payments team. No additional help needed at this time. This is delaying our next payments launches (PAY-456 among others; customer support is aware).
- Reminder, I will be out Weds for 10 days.
<ooo plan doc>
What it should do
Creating visibility should have the following benefits:
- Your boss gains understanding of what you’re focused on; has a regular and specific place where they can review priorities and deliver feedback, as early as possible; and can harmonize your status and priorities with that of their other reports. Things that might have otherwise arisen later and surprised your boss, do not.
- Your peers gain understanding of what’s going on within your team, and gain context that might be needed or helpful in the week ahead, especially if your teams work together or depend on eachother.
- Your team sees what kind of work gets elevated as “wins” or as challenges; sees their own work celebrated; gains understanding of where your short-term focus will be (and why); and sees a behavior to model in their own work management.
- You keep yourself accountable to priorities that you explicitly commit to; and reap the benefits of all your stakeholders having a clear baseline understanding of priorities.
Most significantly, you’ve created visibility that can be consumed and processed asynchronously, without an expensive meeting. 1:1s with your boss are not wasted on rote status updates.
As a manager, do you report up your team’s accomplishments/priorities, your own, or both?
The answer is both, but I don’t set a hard and fast rule about the balance. In fact it can be a useful signal to see what balance a manager chooses to elevate, and adjust as needed.
What should be listed as a “priority”? Generally, I would try to elevate near-term focus areas; things that will see the most time, action, and/or results in the week ahead. Weekly priorities should complement and cascade up to, but not replace, longer-horizon goal-setting (like quarterly planning).
Avoid giving a laundry list of tasks - you can’t possibly have that many priorities, and routine tasks are often not all that relevant to others.
This is also something I use a few iterations to calibrate on, both from my reports and with my own boss. Don’t worry if you don’t nail it out of the gate.
Advising versus escalating
When elevating challenges, be explicit as to whether it’s advisory (“FYI, I’m on this”) versus an escalation (“I need help”).
If you’re escalating, be explicit about the exact kind of help you need, otherwise you only invite that question. Whenever possible, don’t wait until you write your report to take action; instead, escalate ahead of time, turning the issue back into an FYI. For example, instead of this:
“Challenge: Sales is swamping us with feature requests, need CRO help.”
… it would be better to instead report:
“Challenge: Sales is swamping us with feature requests. CRO and I have set aside time on Tuesday to resolve.”
Common objections, dismissed
“What if nobody cares?”
Do you care? Do you ever plan to reflect back on your own growth, impact, and productivity, and if so do you think it might be easier with some notes on where all the time went? I’ve found being able to go back and read my own weekly snippets incredibly useful at longer-horizon reflection points.
Like so many aspects of modern building, you may not know what will happen until you try. You can always abandon it if truly useless.
“Why not use this fancy tool?”
From my reports, I seek a crisp and opinionated summary of priorities, accomplishments, and challenges. No tool I am aware of is capable of generating this judgement.
If your team or company has a better tool for drafting/organizing/submitting these snippets, by all means, use it. But I do not accept that any specific tool is necessary for, nor that are mechanical objections are a good excuse to block, essential reporting.
“I don’t have time!”
This should not take more than 5 minutes. And it is a required job function. From my direct reports, I expect a certain minimum of dependable, well, reporting.
If you have someone who insists the work cannot be done in more than a few minutes, dig in to understand their system. Try pairing with them on a report. Share what works for you. Likely, there is a deeper problem in their general organization or habits.
Getting it done
The way to get something like this done, and done well, is consistency.
Set aside a specific block of time where you’ll compile the report, and also set a target time to send. I like Fridays at 4:30, since it’s close to the natural end of week but still leaves you with the weekend. I hit
schedule send and still have a little time Monday to revise anything if I need to.
As with all things, launch and iterate. Seek the feedback of your boss and other recipients, and make your own tweaks to the target style and substance.
I hope you’ll find everyone enjoys the visibility you’ve created. And with any luck, you’ll start getting more visibility from others in return too.
Thank you to Stephanie Mardell for reviewing a draft of this post.
Why create visibility? In a single word, alignment. The sooner others know your priorities and challenges, the sooner they may be able provide help, correct misalignment, or simply gain context they might otherwise need to seek out later.
Nobody likes to disagree with their boss on priorities. But if you boss doesn’t know what you’re prioritizing, you’re potentially wasting time and energy on something you’ll only find out later was not important to them. Create an opportunity to find that disagreement before most of the energy is spent.
Lastly, when you elevate accomplishments, you make it easier for others around the company to see and celebrate them. Everybody loves seeing their work appreciated, especially from folks outside their immediate circle. ↩︎
Of these, your boss is the “main” audience, but ideally you can share to peers and reports, most weeks, with little to no editing. This often works easily if you have a culture of high internal transparency.
You should of course remove any sensitive updates that are inappropriate to the non-boss audience (e.g. HR matters), which should be infrequent. If you’re just getting started, it’s OK to start boss-only. ↩︎