Forward Momentum

Dustin Senos, Product Designer and a good friend of mine, writes about the process of redesigning Medium:

There’s a lot of talk about design process–how to go from a sketch to a shipped product. While defining process may improve your work, nothing trumps momentum. How do you keep momentum? Knowing when you’re swaying from the path, when you’re repeating yourself, and when to ask questions–the right questions.

It’s easy to get caught up in process and workflow. The goal of process is to methodically create and maintain forward momentum. Your systems are a tool to help you keep on keeping on with what’s happening in your life. Any time process becomes a distraction from forward momentum, it is failing you.

Momentum isn’t good enough. Momentum needs to be forward momentum. The “right” direction is a matter of design and design is understanding where you’re going, what you want to be doing, what questions you should be asking and answering, and as Dustin puts it, at what fidelity you should be focusing at:

You keep forward momentum if you actively acknowledge you don’t need to answer all of your questions immediately. Always know the question you’re trying to answer, and don’t get caught up in the wrong details at the wrong fidelity.

In this process, fidelity is the level of granularity you approach a problem with. It could be sketching something out with pen and paper, a full-resolution Photoshop composition, or building an idea directly with code. Each way is moving forward in your design iterations but at different levels of quality and each allowing you to answer different questions with different levels of time, effort, and attention.

Fidelity is important in the process of decision making, which in truth, is most of what lowercase getting things done is all about; the doing isn’t the hard part, it’s making the decisions about what to do. The level of fidelity at which you attack a problem can determine whether it’s a success or not. Altitudes can help prompt at what granularity you should go into something. If a project is at 30,000 feet–12-18 months away–you don’t need to be too detailed but you need to have a good understanding and clarity on something that’s “runway”.

Apply the correct fidelity of your time and attention to your projects and decisions to maintain forward momentum on your work. Spend your high-fidelity attention on what’s immediate and keep long-term plans lo-fi. Stay focused on process as a means for momentum because when you have momentum, you’re unstoppable.