Journaling as a Feedback Technique

 

I’m teaching project management to graduate students this year. One of their assignments is to keep a project management journal. I explained it this way: PMs make decisions where the consequences — the results of their decisions — can be far removed from the decision. One of the things I want the students to learn is how to observe their states, not just the project’s state. Journaling is the feedback technique I chose for this class.

I explained this to someone last week, and he was more than mildly surprised. He’d never heard of journaling, certainly not as a technique to obtain feedback about your own work. I was surprised, because before I’d heard of journaling, I’d kept an “engineering” notebook. I took notes at meetings, notes about problems, anything I didn’t want to forget in my notebook. I didn’t use the notebook specifically as feedback for me — not at the beginning — but my notebook is how I finally learned not to create infinite loops. (I was a pro at writing infinite loops no matter what language, and it wasn’t until I started noting under which circumstances I’d created the loop did I learn to stop writing them.)

I learned about journaling when I read Weinberg’s Becoming a Technical Leader. Weinberg suggested people journal, not just taking notes, but looking back at your work or life and commenting on it. Aha! I learned about my decision-making patterns and I could make choices about whether I wanted to continue with those same choices or make new ones. (I learned tons of great stuff from that book.)

In my consulting, I find that too many managers and project managers don’t take a few minutes a day to reflect on what they’ve done, the decisions they made, or the consequences of those decisions. I started notebooking in 1978. I started journaling in 1995 (ok, so I was a little slow). But now, I don’t work without the benefit of some form of notebook and journal. Do you journal? Do you find it effective? Have you ever kept a journal to see where your PM decisions have taken you?

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