Progress, Plans, Problems

Progress, Plans, Problems
Do you lead a team at work? Do you sometimes wonder what people are working on, what’s up next, and where they might be struggling?

If you’ve ever asked these questions in your mind, you’re not alone. Understanding your team is the first step to getting things done. These critical questions form the bedrock of how you can be more productive as a team. Thankfully, a process exists for answering these questions. It’s extremely simple, yet powerful.

It’s called Progress, Plans, and Problems or PPPs. We've recorded this video which provides a high-level overview, or you can continue to read more:

Progress, Plans, Problems

Plans, Progress, and Problems (PPPs) is a management technique that provides a bit of structure and clarity to traditional status updates (or daily standups). It’s a simple, yet effective way to view individual and team momentum at work, without adding a lot of unnecessary detail.

Think of work like water flowing down a river. You need to answer a few questions to understand what’s going on:

  • Progress – where is the work moving? What is currently being done?
  • Plans – what is going to happen next?
  • Problems – what blockage points exist? Where is the work getting stuck?

As a team leader, if you can understand these key facets of your team’s work experience, you can be much more productive.

How often should I ask these questions?

At the end of the day, this is up to you, but we believe that asking these questions once per week is ideal. If you ask more frequently, you may be perceived as micromanaging. If you ask too infrequently (a couple times a month), you can miss out on a lot of the work that happens.

We see this process playing a complementary role to one-on-one meetings where you can dig into the specifics and really figure out what’s going on.

If you want an easy way to send out these questions on a regular basis over email or Slack, you should check out Friday. We can handle the heavy lifting with our PPPs template.

What questions should I ask?

The questions you should ask are simple. We recommend asking the following:

  • What did you accomplish this week? (Progress)
  • What are your priorities for next week? (Plans)
  • Is there anything you are stuck on? Anything I can do to help? (Problems)

Yes, it’s that easy. If you ask each person on your team these questions, you will learn new things and improve as a manager. The answers to these questions will spark new insights and help you identify roadblocks much faster than before.

What are the benefits?

Some people find that weekly updates like PPPs are a waste of time, but the reality is that this simple ritual will save you a ton of time. Why?

Oftentimes, this is the information you would find out in a weekly team meeting, but the major downside is that you’d find out in the moment and have little time to prepare. When the update is captured in writing, you can better plan and prepare for how you might be able to fix the problem.

Spend less time in meetings = more time for deep work

It also saves time, especially in meetings. If you have four people in a meeting for an hour, you should multiply the average hourly rate for each employee by FOUR. If each employee costs the company $50/hr, a one hour meeting is worth $200. Better yet, fewer meetings means your team can keep their sanity.

The benefits of writing things down

In addition, when information is captured in writing (especially online), it is searchable and can be referenced later. By capturing this information in writing, you can hold people accountable for their work. It’s also a great way to avoid miscommunication. Teams get into trouble when people say something, but mean something completely different.

In conclusion

Progress, Plans, and Problems is a simple way to understand what's going on at work. Ask a few quick questions on a regular basis, and avoid boring update meetings that your team despises.