On The Importance of 15-5 Updates

We had a delightful discussion on the importance of writing weekly updates in this week’s Coding Career Community meetup. I rarely get so excited about an idea I immediately know I need to start doing it, so I’m choosing to write it up to commit to it, and to share it with you.

As well known of a writer I might be externally, I think I am appalling at it at work. I tend to keep my activities and observations to myself, to silo my interactions with people I have 1:1s with, and to only occasionally and verbally share it with my managers. I don’t think it helps, but am also worried that if I really share everything I think, I might piss off somebody I work with by errors of commission and omission.

After today’s reminder, I’d like to change that.

The 15-5 format

Specifically, the format that seems to be very popular in tech is the 15-5 format. @GergelyOrosz summarizes it as such:

“Spend 15 minutes at the end of each week on a report that can be read in five minutes. Send this out to your manager and a few peers at work.”

@EugeneYan reported very good results doing this as a blog and even having some unrelated coworkers subscribe to it!

Being a startups guy I knew about 15five from Jason Calacanis’ LAUNCH incubator (2012 pitch here) but I had never really tried it out. I have also admired Know Your Team from afar and at AWS we had a daily survey system called Amazon Connect (not the call center product, also called Amazon Connect). (please let me know if there are other popular frequent feedback software out there).

I did some digging and apparently the 15-5 was created by Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia in the 1980’s.

Specifics of the 15-5 format are unclear:

  • Chouinard’s format uses 4 sections:
    • This week (completed activities, notable wins, what’s working)
    • Next week’s priorities
    • Challenges/Roadblocks
    • Lessons Learned/Opps for improvement
  • others have a 7 questions format:
    • What I did
    • What’s working
    • What’s not
    • How am I feeling? How’s the team/group?
    • What one thing will make the biggest improvement in my work/company?
    • What concrete steps to make this happen?
    • What do I want to discuss next meeting?
  • the company 15five asks four questions listed here.
  • Dando uses 3 questions:
    1. Gut check:
      • How’s it going? (10 = Couldn’t be better. 1 = I’m going to quit)
      • Why?
    2. Issues/Problems/Open Items
    3. Notables (free-form with context)

Other Authorities

Will Larson also concurs:

About a year ago I started my most recent approach to sending weekly updates to relevant public (within the company) mailing lists. This practice is sometimes called a 5-15 report, reflecting the goal of spending fifteen minutes a week writing a report that can be read in five minutes. Personally, I create a new Google Doc each week and record anything I complete there, spending ten minutes polishing the list into something readable each Friday.

Finally, Jay in our group also shared Sriram Krishnan’s Exec 101 post advice which features this:

Every single week, write out an update to your entire org on the people you’ve met and some high level observations. Write about yourself and your journey. People want to hear from their leaders and you’ll be surprised how little they know of what you actually do all day. Writing is by far the best way to get them to know you.

The key here is consistency. Send it to the same google group/alias at the same time of week with the same structure.

Finally, at the end of the month, write up a document on everything you observed from step two and send it to the org along with a few themes you want to focus on. This can feel uncomfortable - most execs aren’t used to being transparent so broadly. However, there’s real value here. The org gets to see how you work transparently but also have a mirror shined back on them from an unbiased source. I often find these docs are valuable years after the fact and good ones are the key to changing org behavior and culture.

That’s enough convincing for me to do it.

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