Do you have a Worry list?

Hint: you should!  😊

We all have a lot on our minds – juggling different responsibilities, complex project dependencies, competing priorities. The risk of keeping so many things in our heads is that we will miss a bunch. We had a great idea, go to bed, and poof, it’s gone.

The solution to this is to get those ideas, questions, challenges out of your head and into what a former manager of mine called his “Worry list”. If you learned formal project management, you would call it an Issue tracker, but I like “Worry list” better.

The idea of a Worry list is to 1) get things out of your head to free up mental space, 2) collect all issues and questions in one place, so you don’t miss any, 3) have a way to systematically “burn down” the number of issues until you are ready to launch, and 4) see a glide path that lets you predict if you are on-track or off-track.

Add to your Worry list – This process is ongoing until the end of the project (and usually into the sustain phase afterward). If you discover a new issue, challenge, or question for a project, you add it to the list. No curation, no prioritization, no nothing – just capture the thought before it eludes you. Have one place and one tool where you do it and just drop things in right when they come to your mind. I like Microsoft To Dos, others use OneNote or paper, and if you want to go fancy, you can build an Excel issue tracker. The most important piece is that you keep your tool simple enough so that you will use it consistently. If you add too many bells and whistles, the maintenance effort will be too high, and you won’t follow through.

Burndown – This is the fun part. Instead of wondering what you need to take care of next, you look at your list and pick the most important or most urgent question or action. You solve it. You move on to the next. You can prioritize your list ahead of time or pick what is appropriate for the moment. This is “burning down” the list of issues (or bugs if you are in SW development).

Glide path – Looking at the glide path lets you determine if you are on-track or off-track. If a plane is within the prescribed glide path during landing, it will smoothly touch the runway. If it’s off the glide path, bad things could happen, and the pilot needs to take immediate action. The same is true for your worry list: if you solve 5 issues per day, have one week to go until launch, and 40 remaining items on your worry list, you know that you need to take action and change course. A glide path can be mathematical science (linear or polynomial regression) or just a rough temperature check (oops, still ten issues left for the week) – it’s up to your preference. In either case, it’s critical to know if you will be ready in time or not.

Punting – The hidden secret for shipping any product or project is to determine what not to tackle when you are running out of time. Some things must be done before launch, but others can wait until after. Solving issues is not the only way to burn down your Worry list – you can also decide to punt some issues for later. SW companies do that all the time and for good reasons – see this famous (and misleading) article on Windows 2000 When launch day comes close and you run out of daylight, decide what really needs to get done and what is nice to have and can wait for another day.

Get your worry list started now! You will see that you will worry much less once you have it (you effectively delegate your worries out of your brain and into the list).

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Thriving in High-Pressure Environments
Lessons from Amazon, a global pandemic, and other crazy times
By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk
ISBN 9798718017663

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