On Demonstrating Progress

Ceiling of Grand Central Terminal with a dark square patch highlighted
The ceiling of Grand Central Terminal. Note that little dark patch.

I’ve been devoting a good chunk of my time lately to documenting progress. Not technical documentation, but acknowledging effort and promoting it where others can see it. It’s an important piece of the everyday work puzzle, whether you’re doing client services or working in-house, but it’s often overlooked.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of keeping stakeholders in the loop via regular, concise demonstrations of progress (and yes, users are stakeholders) and reminding teams about what they’ve accomplished (insert well-deserved pats on the back here). It’s not something that happens on its own. You need to deliberately set aside time for it during your planning, and choose progress markers that are both immediately tangible and easily grokked.

For me, the ultimate example of this isn’t a tech project, it’s a landmark: Grand Central Terminal. A Beaux Arts masterpiece, it was brought back from the brink through major restoration efforts in the 1980s and 90s. The folks who worked on it were smart enough to leave behind a little reminder.

The next time you find yourself strolling through the Main Concourse, just glance up at the ceiling in the northwest corner. (Across the terminal from the Apple Store, on the side where the track entrances are). If you look closely, you’ll spot a small dark rectangle sitting smack dab in the middle of all those beautiful architectural accents. That’s a section that was left uncleaned by the restoration team, a deliberate before-and-after marker that stands in stark contrast to its restored surroundings.

And just like that, any passer-by—even those as unschooled in architecture and restoration as myself—can begin to grasp what was accomplished.