Think About How you Start Your Day

Start the Day

Start the Day, by: Marcy Mongon

In a recent interview, I had a great discussion about what it means to be a manager. We discussed the biggest difference between junior people managers and managers who have years of experience. I have had similar conversations with managers I have worked with and in the simplest of answers, it comes back as the same thing, how a manager chooses to start their day. A daily review will help build your story; the narrative you tell those around you of what you are working on and how it is supporting the rest of the organization.

A good manager is someone who can answer in just two to three sentences the following questions: What is the project? Why is it important? What is the status of it? When it comes to the status of a project, it is important to be able to answer what is holding you back from completing the project on time or early and how you are supporting that status.

As you become more advanced as a manager the same sorts of questions you are asked on projects should be answerable about your direct reports. I suggest this is more advanced because individuals have nuance. A new manager should still be able to answer these about their reports, but as you get better at working with your colleagues and understanding mutual goals, your answers will get more accurate and concise. The questions are similar to how you view projects but about the individual. Who are they and what are they working on? What skills are they working to grow? When and what will show you that they are ready for a promotion? How are you supporting them towards that growth?

The final step to most managers' growth is who have they trained to take over their position. It’s one thing to promote someone into a neighboring role, it’s another to say that you have built a team that is now self-sufficient. If you do that, then you, as the manager are ready to take another challenge beyond this one.

All of this is best to be built as incremental daily activities. Thinking about projects should not just be when asked for a status report. In the same manner, thinking about your direct reports shouldn’t be thought of only when there is a scheduled review.


You need to explain it with a story by: anonymous

How to get there?

That’s right, the previously mentioned advice is so perfect and simple, that you need no further help to move along your path into leadership. Stop reading and accomplish your day. Not quite bought in? Well, read further.

To accomplish this I gave a newly minted manager some steps about what they could do with each project and each individual. I suggested they take 15-20 minutes each morning to review this list, making small refinements in their personal notes. It helped them get a better picture of what they should be accountable for and made them a more focused manager going forward.

Each Project

Each project that you work on should have a document. Many companies have processes for these and will call them things like, ‘requirements docs’ or ‘project scope docs.’ The most important thing that this document has is a description of what the document is. I would encourage you to make sure even if the description of scope is lengthy, to drum it down to a single sentence that tells what the project is, and what success is for the project.

Taking these items and putting them into a single sentence is something that is worth doing. It’s the keynote to your project and your pitch, especially when sharing this with others, is important. It is a quick thing for the team and collaborating teams to grasp and share the excitement. Build the pitch and refine it.

Most projects will have iterations releases/deployments or milestones. These releases are hopefully incremental value that can be delivered with trackable measurements, but there are times when foundations need to be set up first. Where there is the opportunity to track the measurements, make sure, as the manager, you are taking time each day to track against what the measurement is and compare it to the estimated hypothetical results. If there is too large of a delta you should be ready to answer why or put the effort in to do so. If you are efficient, you’ll have a dashboard built to give you these metrics with just a glance.

Together this gives you a quick sentence of what the project is and its goal. You have a brief status of where in the milestones you are and what those results are. These two understandings combined give the manager the final assessment as to whether they need to dig deeper, change direction, or celebrate success. It’s a 2-3 sentence description that can go along with any scrum board, dashboard, KPI check-in, or other style of discussion your company may have.

Each Individual

Individuals are more unique and interesting than projects. If you are in people management I would hope you agree, because you are going to come across new and intriguing versions of mental models you have made of personality types. They will challenge what you think you know over and over again.

Their unique ways of growth aside, as a manager, your primary focus should be how to help foster this growth. Together, you should have clear and documented goals. These goals should reflect what the company’s set expectations are in that role, the needs of the team that they are on, and most importantly, the individual's career aspirations. While as the manager you will be providing guidance within this, it is important that there is a mutual understanding of where the individual sits within that growth.

It is not likely that there will be a dashboard to show these results as a project will have. We all know measuring lines of code, while trackable, is a terrible way to evaluate a software engineer. It takes a subjective but experienced review of the individual and a balance of how their growth is going towards the documented goals. Outside of project issues, this is where most of the time in one-on-ones should be spent. It’s a wasted opportunity in a meeting it’s it’s not spent there.

The final result is that in your own notes and in shared one-on-one notes, each individual should have a list of goals that they are working towards. There should be a mutual understanding of what that status is and a clear understanding of what success looks like; is there a potential raise or promotion with these successes? This helps keep transparency and accountability on both sides.

Organization is Key

Organization of your personal notes, and organizing your calendar to give yourself time for these reviews is important. Some people like to do this at the beginning of the day, and some people like to do this at the end of the day. In either case, it needs to be a judicious choice of putting effort into making sure you are aligned and accountable to what is your responsibilities as a manager. Those responsibilities are twofold, the projects your team works on and your team.

These are the questions your coworkers want to know, and they will ask them. preparation saves you from needing to craft answers inelegantly on the spot. It is not easy. Like many things, if you take smooth steps and put in continual effort it makes the problem easier. The managers that stand out are the ones who prepare their thoughts and align them with their colleagues.

Remember but one suggestion, It’s not about taking this time at the beginning of the day or at the end of the day. It’s about spending some amount of time doing this. Without knowing where you should put effort in the day means you are letting the day lead you as opposed to managing it.