jade rubick

Velocity role 4 - the Nowist


What do the most effective people do to increase the velocity of their teams?

There are several roles people take on teams, that make their teams move faster. I describe one of these roles today, and how you might learn from them.

Role #4: The Nowist

The Nowist moves everything towards the present.

For a Nowist, every action either makes things move faster, or makes them move slower, and they can’t tolerate anything going slower. So they’re continually looking for ways to eliminate waiting.

Some typical questions that the Nowist might ask include the following:

  • Can we just go talk with them now?
  • Do we need a meeting? Could we decide it right now?
  • Could we do it in three weeks instead of six weeks?

A Nowist has a different relationship to timelines than most people do. To a Nowist, a deadline isn’t something you work against—it’s the final point of failure. The Nowist wants to have things started immediately and finished tomorrow. If you have three days worth of work to complete this week, the Nowist is the person who starts it on Monday morning and has it done Wednesday afternoon.

How do Nowists work?

To a Nowist, the worst words they can imagine are “I’m waiting for so and so to do X.” For them, there is always a way to do things that are non-blocking. For example, instead of waiting for a decision on something, they’ll move ahead and inform people what they plan to do. Generally, a Nowist seeks guidance instead of approval, and broadcasts intention rather than hesitating.

So a Nowist might say, “Here are the various options and tradeoffs. I’m going to proceed with X, but if you have any concerns or feedback, please let me know.” It’s usually better to course correct and throw away a little work than to sit around and wait for consensus.

One thing a Nowist will often insist on is a default course of action. If people are deciding between M and N on a project, they might say, “you two go ahead and hash out which is the better option. We’ll assume it’s M unless you tell us otherwise by the end of the week”. This reduces the need for communication if M is indeed the option they choose. It also means that if M is a bad option, the two of them will be motivated to make a strong decision in favor of N. Defaults move things to the present.

Some Nowists think in terms of momentum. They need for there to be a milestone or deliverable every couple of weeks, or they think the team isn’t being propelled forward. A deliverable that is three months away is too far for a Nowist. They need a more immediate goal.

What are the dangers of being a Nowist?

  • If you’re in a position of power, and there isn’t a lot of trust, Nowists can distort their organizations. People will want to go along with the Nowist, and end up creating unrealistic goals and expectations.

  • Nowists can be intolerant of obstacles. So they have to take extra care when people are slowing things down. They have to really listen and understand the concerns.

Want to practice being a Nowist?

  • Try this Nowist exercise. When you’re in a meeting you can observe, try to observe every part of the meeting with this lens: is this making things faster, or slower? You’ll find that a lot of patterns in communication slow things down, without necessarily providing a benefit. Start with the assumption that there is always a “speed things up” version of every pattern of communication. What would that be? You can then take these insights, and try to analyze your own behavior. And you might be able to influence others in their behavior.

Other velocity roles

Implementing velocity roles: team approach

Having someone on your team with this role can speed things up. But there are some things you can do to practice these roles. Here’s an exercise you can do on your team.

  • Have each member of a team choose one of the velocity roles. Have them choose so that each person has a role, but there are no duplicates.
  • Have them keep it secret which one they’ve chosen.
  • See if after a month everyone else on the team can guess which role the other team members chose.
  • Rotate the roles each month, so everyone gets to try each role.
  • Talk about what you learn.

Your team should be more focused, efficient, and productive. And the team members should have an appreciation for different work styles.

Implementing velocity roles: individual approach

If you are practicing velocity roles as an individual, it’s easiest if you have someone to observe. So start out by looking to see if anyone you know is good at that role. Then watch what they do carefully, and emulate anything you think is effective.

If you don’t have anyone in your work life that is good at that role, then you can create reminders to yourself to practice that behavior. I’ve also found it useful to set aside some time to think about how I could act if I were better at that Role. Thinking through it should give you some concrete actions you can take if you were better at it. Through practice, you may find you exhibiting that role in a lot of your daily life.

A speech, resurrected

I’ve presented this content in a couple of forms: several talks, internal to a company, and external. I’ve also written it up on a corporate blog (it’s since been deleted).

For some reason, this content has resonated more than perhaps anything else I’ve done. I’ve had people come up to me years after one of those presentations and talk about it! After I gave the presentation at an internal company event, someone made laminated cards for all of the roles and handed them out to every team in engineering!

I’m reworking the roles a little as I write them up, so many years later. And let me know what you think – I have never had a reliable way to understand what resonates!

Have you known a Nowist?

Are you a Nowist? Have you known other people that you now recognize as Nowists? Let me know if I missed any observations or could describe this role better!

Thank you

The first version of this was created when Kirby Frugia, Darin Swanson, and I huddled in a room and brainstormed behaviors. I believe Keizan Shaffer and I also brainstormed a version of this for managers.

Image by Annette from Pixabay

Jade Rubick

Engineering Leadership Weekly & Frontline Management

Point me at your organizational problems. I advise startups and help in a variety of ways.

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