Don’t Confuse Motion And Progress

May 14, 2014


“Don’t confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but doesn’t make any progress.” ~Alfred Montapert

As leaders, we love, no, need to see that things are making progress. If we don’t see any progress, we might get impatient and start taking action to get things moving again. This is where we need to keep in mind that motion and progress are not the same.

You know you have only achieved motion when the team is doing a lot of work, but is having problems getting to done. They may be able to demonstrate outcomes of their work, but there is always more work to get it done. It is either always missing something, the direction changes, or there are too many problems or bugs. Sometimes the team does not even know what done looks like.

If you are in the situation of motion without progress, you will need to stop for a moment and reset. During this time, doing the following will help the team get back on track:

  • Understand why they were blocked in the first place. There was a good reason why the team was not making progress in the first place. Observe and listen to the team to find out why. Ask them what they need. Maybe they are missing a critical skill or someone lacks confidence to make necessary decisions. Maybe there are too many conflicting external decision-makers. Taking a little time to understand the real reasons for lack of progress will ensure the solutions work.
  • Ensure what done looks like is clear. If team members all have a different idea of what done looks like, then they are not working towards the same goal and may be pulling the project in different directions. Once everyone is on the same page on what done looks like, they will be able to work together to reach it and recognize it when they have. Part of defining what done looks like involves clearly defining what problem the project is solving. When the team is on the same page on what the problem is, they will be able to recognize the solution once they have found it.
  • Create smaller, intermediate goals. Particularly for large projects, breaking down the work into smaller goals and deliverables will help the team build momentum and give everyone a sense of progress as they deliver to intermediate goals. This is one of the core principles of Agile where teams deliver a potentially shippable part of the project every 4-6 weeks.

What are some of the things you do when you see a team is stuck? How do you help them make progress again? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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About Liza Wood

After a dozen years leading video game development projects in a variety of roles, I decided to pursue a Master of Data Science at the University of British Columbia. Studying data science doesn’t mean I’m moving away from leading people. Growing data science teams need collaborative, pragmatic, Agile leadership to connect data to all areas of the business. I would like to share that point of view, along with my experiences, on this blog.

View all posts by Liza Wood

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3 Comments on “Don’t Confuse Motion And Progress”

  1. milfordstreet Says:

    I’ve used the term “the illusion of movement” meaning people who talk about goals and plans, etc but lack actual actions towards said goals.


  2. markslawler Says:

    Great post. My favorites have been “Don’t mistake activities for results” and “being busy is not the same as getting stuff done.” Your quote gives it a great visual. All too often people report on their activities and their metrics reflect highlighting these activities. At the end of the day it is the end result that matters. Unless you have goals and metrics which reflect the desired result it is easy to get sucked in to believing the activities are what matters. I’ve also seen some Agile teams get sucked in to this–the iterations and how they are “Agile” somehow replaced caring about actually shipping something that delights customers.


    • Liza Wood Says:

      So true! Some teams think constant iterations is being “Agile” when, as you said, it’s really about getting to done and the customer is happy. I’m glad you enjoyed the post!


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