Production Pancakes – Heads Up

Giving a heads up! Facilitating or managing a team requires much of us. Rather than talk about the fundamentals, I want to share one powerful thing with you for improving your communication with your team, increasing productivity and more.

I was amazed when I struggled to find anything written on this topic; surely I can’t be the only person who thinks a heads up is a ‘skill’ worth developing (let me know what you think).

Some people work well when surprised or blindsided by new priorities/tasks. Others learn to work well under such conditions, but many people struggle in dealing with sudden, surprise situations. How many people do you know who have anxiety about answering phone calls? More importantly, should our team (the devs) be working under such conditions? As leads/producers we should be quelling the chaos so that our teams can continue to work at their best.

Sure, there’s more to the above issues than what I will discuss here, however the following process is simple. I believe it reduces anxiety in our teammates, increases productivity, improves focus, and facilitates high quality work and high value deliverables. If anything, we should be overcommunicating (link to a fantastic GDC talk by Jesse Schell). I believe it would help (have helped) me, across all of my jobs to date, if my colleagues and I strive(d) to give a heads up when it matters.

The warning order

The US military has something called a “warning order” (abbreviated as “WARNO”) which is issued ahead of an order to allow for preparations. If it’s good enough for the military, it’s good enough for the front lines of a development studio! I’ll discuss some of the kinds of WARNO I have issued or been issued in the past:

  • Reminding team about the updated acceptance criteria in our project before each sprint’s end.
  • Ensuring the team is aware as to the format of deliverables (for an event) changing, due to a global pandemic. The event in question changed from in person, to online, back to in person.
  • Reminding fellow foreign workers of an upcoming cultural event for which to prepare.

Simple yet effective

So, in reality, there’s nothing much more to what I propose here: give a heads up! Make sure you communicate, to the right people, well in advance with enough actionable information. Hopefully your organisation can be better prepared. Do you agree, disagree, or see any problems with giving a heads up? Perhaps you can think of some examples when a heads up would have improved the situation or the end result (and I’d be interested to hear about it!).

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