Status and Pulse Calls are not the Same


When I talk about DONE DONE, I often talk about pulse calls – a daily call I have with the teams I manage. Recently, in a talk I was presenting, I said that you had to make sure you were running a pulse call and not a status call – because they were different. As you can imagine, I got some emails about that.

What's the difference?

To get to the bottom of it, let me first walk you thru an example of a status call, as I often hear them.

Boss: Steve, how's it going?
Steve: I'm working on that project for client A.
Boss: How's it coming along?
Steve: Good. I'm finishing up the design and then I'll hand it over to Suzy.
Boss: Suzy, how's it going?
Suzy: Good. I'm working on the stuff for client B.
Boss: Are we getting ready to wrap it up?
Suzy: Yeah I think so – just another few days.

What do we see in this tiny exchange?

  • Everyone is busy.
  • Everyone is good.
  • Everything is almost done.

That is the nature of every status call I've ever listened to – and most of them that I get introduced to when I come to help turn them into a pulse call.

So let me ask you a few quick questions?

Do you think the Boss has any greater sense of where the projects are at?

I doubt it. And if he doesn't, then the call was a waste of his time.

Do you think Steve or Suzy felt any peer pressure at all?

It's not likely, but if they did, it's in the direction of telling the boss everything is good.

Do we know what is holding them back?

Not at all.

Defining the Status Call

A status call basically helps everyone feel good without delivering the goods. A status call is a glorified waste of time because we knew, before the call started, that everyone was doing “something.” And it's easy to guess that projects are “almost done.” But if it's a waste of a call, with nothing in it for anyone, guess what? It's a waste of time.

So, to sum up:

  • A status call wastes everyone's time.
  • A status call doesn't create the right peer pressure.
  • A status call doesn't illuminate challenges.
  • A status call rarely drives deliverables.

So with that said, let's look at a sample pulse call.

A Pulse Call

Boss: Steve, what have you gotten done done today?
Steve: nothing yet. But I'll be done done in 2 days.
Boss: Is there anything that would hold you back?
Steve: I need a little of Suzy's time tomorrow. Assuming I can get that, I'll be good.
Boss: It's yours. Suzy, give Steve 2 hours tomorrow.
Suzy: I can do that.
Boss: What's done done today Suzy?
Suzy: nothing. But client B's site gets handed over tomorrow morning.
Boss: So tomorrow it will be done done?
Suzy: No. I still need two revisions. I think it will be done done on Friday.

Notice the difference?

The first question to every person is “what is done done today?” That is a focus on accomplishment, not on activity. On results, not effort.

Second, the pressure is on “done done.” No one says it's done until it really is. But there's also a push to get to done done. So it pushes people to not only drive for results, but also to highlight what they need. That's the key role for a supervisor: to get what his/her staff need so they can get their stuff done.

Third, the boss walks away with actionable work. He gets a set of estimated deadlines, updated status and a set of decisions he/she has to make (allow Suzy to allocate some time to another project). The team walks away getting the resources and decisions they need.

In whole, it's radically different.

So tell me, how are you doing your daily (or weekly) calls? Are they more “pulse” or “status” calls?