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McKinsey’s Check-in/Check-out Strategy: How to Focus on Results

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Remember the last time you asked yourself whether you have accomplished anything productive that day? Most likely, you will say that all of your workdays are full of important ‘jobs to be done’ which seem, however, rather routine and nonproductive.

This prompts the question: “How can one manage one’s daily project routines more effectively?” Needless to say, manager’s performance is evaluated by the amount of the work done and the result delivered, both in the short term and in the long term.

Let’s consider the example of a powerful principle employed by McKinsey consultants – the Check-in and Check-out strategy. The routine is quite simple – you check-in with your team every morning and strive to have a 10-minute check-out at the end of each working day at 6 pm or so. This method encourages employees to focus on results rather than actions that they engage in throughout a day. Understanding how this principle works and using it in practice is pivotal as it essentially releases one’s time that could be spent on more urgent matters. Great leaders focus on several workstreams and quickly sense what’s going on in their projects. Let’s take a closer look at this method.

Check-in

Every morning you and your team get together to briefly discuss who will do what during that day. Typically, analysts (subordinates) present their daily plans to EMs (or senior managers), e.g.:

  1. Things to be achieved today? Expected results?
  2. It is better to discuss only actions that answer the “what?” question instead of “how?” Issues related to “how?” should be taken to a separate offline meeting focusing on problem-solving.

The check-in process allows managers to make sure that the team is doing everything that is necessary for the project, while for consultants, it is an excellent practice of their ability to structure thoughts and synthesize insights, conveying them in a concise form of a bulleted list. Don’t spend too much time detailing updates from contributors. If you feel that their explanations are getting tedious, try to intervene the discussion by saying something like “Let’s get down to what needs to be done specifically today“. As a leader, you have to be straightforward. The check-in is not the time for vague discussions.

We have used this approach with the BBC Russian Service in London. Every morning, the journalists would meet for a brief session where they would plan which news they were going to tackle and by what time. The deadlines for collecting and processing the content were often very tight, and the results had to be delivered by the editor and aired in the afternoon the same day. A day would close with the feedback.

It is important to distinguish the two types of discussions one of which attempts to answer the “what?”question while the other answers the “how?” question. The “what?” discussions focus on the actions that need to be done to receive the result, while the “how?” discussions focus on the workflow as such. Your credibility as a leader is greatly enhanced if you are able to structure business communication in various domains while being able to guide it across the “what?”, “how?” and why?” lines of discussion. The ability to focus on the “what?” type of dialogue has another important bonus — an opportunity to identify problem areas in the early days of a project and, hence, being able to drive the effort in the right stream.

Check-out

Checking-out is done in the evening and involves a team discussion of the things accomplished during the day, the delivered results and priorities by the end of the day. Without the check-out, a working day does not come to a close. The check-out typically answers several questions, e.g.

  1. Which of the actions planned for today have been completed by the end of the day? This question is about prioritization.
  2. When can we expect reports on these actions? The question is about strict deadlines and includes time for editing and proofreading.
  3. Which issues remain open? This concerns forecasting and planning by the end of the week.

In teams with good, healthy relationships, each member’s time is respected. That is why it is important to agree a strict check-out time (e.g., 6 pm every day). You can have dinner together as a team afterwards, or someone may want to hang out with their friends outside the company’s setting or stay and finish their business in the office. In the business consulting jargon, they use the term ‘lifestyle’ to denote all aspects of collaboration. For example, staying in the office on weekends, having free time to go to the gym, flying to a client in another city, etc. The checking-out is also useful in a sense that a brief session helps checking the alignment of one’s actions and priorities with the general stream. This, in turn, builds more confidence in one’s actions and dissipates unnecessary doubt.

Possible Roadblocks

It is important to ensure during the checking-out that people have a clear understanding of the details of all actions as it prevents having diverging expectations the next morning. Make sure that the big picture is clear. If you can’t be at the team’s check-out session (e.g., you need to be at an important meeting with your client), ask your colleagues to write down the meeting’s deliverables on the board or email them to you.