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30 ways to improve with Marginal Gains

Finding those 1% improvements in your workplace

In 2003, the fate of Sky cycling changed.

They had never had a major success on the international stage.

Dave Brailsford joined them as director of performance and rather than focusing on wholesale changes,

He aimed for 1% improvements in lots of areas, even some you wouldn't expect (Like the type of massage gels they used after a training session). Those 1% changes aggregated to great results and within 5 years they were a dominant force in cycling and track events.

Making a 1% improvement every day for a year will result in being 37 times better than where you started.

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Let's bring this back to how it impacts you day-to-day

Examples of marginal gains by category

Not sure where to get started with improvement? Try focusing on a 1% shift in any of the below:


1. Improve automation test coverage to reduce manual effort

2. Pair working, pair programming or swarming more often

3. Allocate capacity for learning about the latest quality assurance techniques

4. Establish shorter feedback loops with customers to identify quality concerns early

5. Develop habits that encourage open dialogue about quality at a daily sync

6. Refine your Definition of Done (DOD) to include improved quality standards

7. Host ‘Quality circles’ with other teams to brainstorm opportunities and share experiences

8. Limit WIP to reduce multi-tasking & errors creeping in

9 Use data to predict when issues may occur instead of firefighting

10 Allocating capacity to deal with technical debt incrementally, not letting it build-up

Employee Engagement

11. Greater choice over when the work gets done (Flexible hours)

12. More autonomy over how the work gets done (The ability to choose how you deliver the work)

13. Flexibility over where the work gets done (Flexible location)

[Focus on the outcome, not the logistics]

14. Act on responses from employee surveys, don't just send them

15. Clarify how we each fit into the bigger picture - We aren’t JIRA ticket machines

16. Learning & development funding - It’s cheaper to train people than hire replacements when they leave

17. Regular recognition - Not just yearly awards. Tell someone if they’ve made an impact when it happens.

18. Co-create ways of working with them. Invite them to be part of change, don’t inflict it.

19. Reserve time for innovation, don't make it an afterthought - Innovation doesn't happen in a vacuum and can't just be side of desk. Look into 20% time at Google to learn more.

20. Stop calling them resources [Need I say more there?]

Customer satisfaction

21. Build the RIGHT thing by shortening the feedback loop with your customers - Try embedding citizen developers in your team

22. Make your product easier to use - Less noisy features, not more. Add negative features to your backlog

23. Develop daily habits that focus on the customer - Remember YANTU (You Are Not The User)

24. Personalise their experience based on how they use your product rather than a generic one-size-fits-all all

25. GEMBA walk regularly, seeing where the value is makes it easier to create more of it

26. Always ask for feedback - pre-purchase, post-purchase, when they are no longer your customers - All are opportunities to identify improvements.

27. Transparent communication - If the bug they've reported isn't being resolved, tell them when it will be and why. The absence of communication is worse than the truth.

28. A user experience they can understand, including error handling that goes beyond 404 messaging which tells them very little

29. Make it easier to contact you - Don't make them go on a treasure hunt to find your contact details

30. Ensure customer feedback is easily accessible - It shouldn't be hidden in software you don't have a license for. Awareness can build empathy which drives outcome-focused thinking to make the customers experience better

Note that many of these involve shortening the feedback loop.

The information you gain from them can be used to pivot, to alter your trajectory in pursuit of improvement.

Being aware of where you need to improve is the beginning.

Committing to regular retrospectives is one of the best marginal gains you can make.

Consider this blog post a part 1 with more to come in different categories


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