Making process reminders a habit

Last week I talked about clear and simple messaging for processes, to avoid confusion and waste. This is particularly important for parts of the process that are used rarely, and which people therefore easily forget.

Another way to achieve the same result is to make that messaging a habit or a ritual. I was reminded of this when I read about the man who runs a marathon every day. One of his ways of making it easier is that he does it every day—no exceptions:

It would be harder to stick to, he thinks, if he set himself the challenge of running three or four marathons a week. “I never have a choice. I never think: do I do it today, or do I not? I have to get up. Once you’re there, and you’ve run the first mile or two, it’s actually fine. The hardest part is just starting.”

Another tip (for his running) is to set out his running gear the night before. This makes it routine, and reduces friction.

When we regularly put lots of these habits together it’s called habit chaining. It’s not just routine to do all the things—it’s routine to always follow Thing One with Thing Two, which is always followed by Thing Three, and so on. It associates one action with another.

In our day to day work one easy way to form habits is having a regular meeting agenda. The point is not necessarily to follow a big process every time, but more to remind people that it’s there and check if anyone wants to use it. For example, a point to ask “Are there any architectural decisions we need to speak to the Tech Leads about?” Document templates are also useful for including these kinds of reminders.

And it doesn’t have to be that formal, either. It can be as simple as ritually asking a recurring question at a daily standup (eg “Is there anything we need to escalate to the programme group?”, or “Is that something we can talk about in the retro?”). These are reminders to us that there is a way of dealing with the apparent exceptions to day to day working.

Of course, habits can be bad things in business—we can retain process unnecessarily, clogging up the works pointlessly, and document templates are too often full of pointless box-ticking. We should certainly always question tasks which seem onerous or pointless.

But the point about creating these “signposting” habits in our work is that it provides a constant reminder of the wider system for solving problems.

Photo by g4ll4is

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