What did I work on last month?

And the value of building for fun

Over Christmas in 2019, with some downtime hanging out at my parents’ house and fired up by my new-found ability to deploy web apps single-handedly, I decided to ship a side project.

Since starting Progression I’ve been aware of two interesting problems. The most obvious problem to solve from a business point of view was and remains that of helping managers to be better managers by creating clear career progression for their teams. E.g.

When I’m in a levelling conversation with my direct report
I want to have clear expectations laid out over their role
So we both have guidance on how they can grow

This is a great problem to try to solve because it directly aligns with the kind of things managers are measured on — employee happiness, retention, engagement and the hiring brand (or ability to attract new people) of the team they’re building.

It’s also a ‘painkiller’ problem. Solving this problem with no help is hard, boring and takes a long time.

If you’re anything like me, for every hour you spend writing expectations for your team, you’re spending another hour googling to find shortcuts, examples and other ways to achieve the same thing. People don’t want to create those expectations, they want to have created them. Not solving it right now means you’re using time and energy you could be spending on other things.

Keeping a record of your work

The other problem has always been more nascent, harder to pin down. It’s much more difficult to find behaviours to point to and if you try to capture it, it starts to have that bad smell of a problem you want to exist, rather than one that really does.

This is a classic vitamin problem.

When I’m in my levelling conversation
I want to have recorded what I’ve been working on for the last 6 months
So I know how to advocate for myself

See that? I want to have recorded. Oops. Didn’t bother at the time, but wish I had. Just like I wish I’d tracked my running, or counted calories, or kept a to-do list, or bought Bitcoin in 2012 when I was first told to.

Every time I see solutions to this problem within HR-bought ‘Talent management tools’ I immediately feel a wave of cynicism. The #praise, the enforced diarising. It smacks to me of busy work so management can report up, not something that people genuinely want to do.

I may, of course, be being overly cynical, but rightly or wrongly my side project — Bragdocs — came out of this reaction.

If I want to keep a proof of my work, it should belong to me. It should be

  1. Completely private if I need

  2. owned by me, not my company

  3. genuinely useful when I need it

In the year since the last time I pushed code and without any promotion from me, a bunch of people have found Bragdocs and created hundreds of posts.

That means we can now look back at what people are writing and why. Hacking on something for a few hours a year ago has given us an interesting dataset that we can use to inform how we solve this problem in the future.

Of course, that’s if this is a problem we want to solve.

549/500 words. Oops again.

You can check the project out at bragdocs.com — create an account and bag your @handle if you want. And if you capture your work or wins anywhere, I’d love to hear about it. Google doc? Notion? Good ol’ notebook?

Thanks for reading this, one of my regular musings on product strategy, life as a founder and moving from designer to early-stage CEO and onwards. You can also find me on Twitter and some older/longer writing on jonnyburch.com.

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