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Writing daily & weekly project updates

October 2020

I’ve been trying something lately to try and improve how I keep track of the document the progress on projects, without a huge time investment. So I’ve been writing notes about my day, everyday, and compiling them into a weekly summary. 

Here’s an example:

Thoughtbot Website: 12th October 2020

We spent most of this week improving the CTA performance on the home page CTAs, and other small visual tweaks:

• Experimented with CTA background colours: Figma

• Improved the CTA heading line wrapping on smaller devices: Figma

• Experimented with different CTA layouts: Figma

...etc

Formatting the notes

Whenever I do something, for example update a screen on a prototype, or open a PR. I make a note:

Updated home screen CTA for feedback: InVision

The link at the end is important, that is the evidence of the task, and an important resource for people looking back on the project – creating a case study is much easier when you have a big list of historical artefacts. So, I try to link to things I know won’t disappear. I commonly link to; Git commits, Figma art-boards, DropBox files, even Slack threads.

That’s it. By the end of the day I’ll have 4-5 of these bullets, which I’ll then post in Slack as an ‘end of day update’. Which is a positive ritual to finish up a day. 

The daily loop

Before standup I will start a new document; I’ll immediately paste yesterdays notes under the ‘yesterday’ heading, done, that means I don’t have to think about yesterday at all, and gives me a nice summary to read from in the standup.

After standup I write the tasks that I’m committing to today, as bullets, under the ‘Today’ heading.

I'll then post these standup notes in Slack. This creates a history in Slack of daily progress – which is useful for new team members and the client.

The ‘today’ section of my standup notes then becomes a draft version of that days ‘end of day update’, now all I need to do is add links to these things as I do them.

Weekly standup

At the end of the week I'll likely have a collection of:

  • 4-5 standup notes

  • 4-5 end of day notes

This might amount to around 20 bullet points with links, each of which have taken 30 seconds or less to write.

At the end of the week I will then combine all the ‘end of day updates’ into one long list, curate it, and write a short summary. That gets pasted into the notes section of our internal project management tool, then I archive that week. It's a nice little task to round off a week of work.

As the project continues the progress and deliverables get incrementally documented, but it all starts with simple bullets points.

Why bother?

Making these notes helps everyone, in the least it helps me to remember things, and adds structure to my day.

Taking notes gives my clients a helpful history of the project progress, which is important on remote projects. Task management apps like Trello don't make it super easy to get an overview of progress, and not everything I do in a day is trackable with a ‘job to be done’ or user story. 

I've had experiences in the past in which an unresponsive client will suddenly appear asking what I've been doing that day or week. First off that's a big red flag and should be addressed, but with this system that evidence is easy to provide. 

In the London studio recently we had a discussion about what ‘continuous delivery’ looks like, these notes help to visualise and enforce that idea. This system exposes those tasks that would otherwise go unnoticed, as a product designer I do not spend a lot of time deploying code to a server, so it’s good to document the work I do that would otherwise disappear after a while. 

Taking notes helps the project manager to stay up-to-date on the project progress without having to bother the team.

Taking notes helps our team write case studies and other marketing material. I’ve tried writing case studies based solely on memory and a single Sketch file, it’s hard! 

Taking notes helps the sales team by giving them more information about what we did for our clients. An important part of sales is giving the clients examples of how we have helped others in a similar situation or industry.

The hard part

The hardest part of this for me was getting into the habit of generating those bullet points. After a while it stuck. 

I try to have a short break between my tasks, before I take that break I write a bullet, tying note taking to an event helped. An app called Streaks also helped me with the habit, I set it to nudge me a few times a day to write notes, that got annoying quick, I didn’t need as many prompts and turned off the reminders.

I can’t offer much advice for forming habits, that’s likely something that personal to each person. This way of working would fit into a GTD workflow, and ties in with bullet journaling, or the pomodoro technique, if you follow those patterns, you’ve likely got a head start on the habit. There are ways of automating this, for example, Basecamp has an ‘Automatic Check-ins' feature that prompts you every evening to add notes about your day.

Personally I make all my notes in Drafts and set my todos in a bullet journal. There are many tools out there to help you do both of those things but, this isn't about tools, there are few things that cannot be done with the default note taking app, on any device. The action itself is the most important part.