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Atomic Habits for Product Teams: A Book Review of Atomic Habits

Michael Luchen
July 22, 2019

I’ve read my fair share of productivity books. While there are a few standouts, I feel the lessons from books in the productivity genre tend to meld together. That said, when I began to see universal praise for James Clear’s Atomic Habits late last year, my initial reaction was one of avoidance. Yet, when deciding my next book to read in my list of product and business books about a month ago, I realized Atomic Habits had sustained unusually high reviews. I was intrigued, so I downloaded the sample. Not too long after, I bought the book.


Atomic Habits is an excellent read for both personal and business reasons. This book may very well become a foundational read in the genre amongst standouts like Getting Things Done by David Allen. The reason is simple: Atomic Habits focuses on habits as a cornerstone aspect of a productive life.


As I read Atomic Habits, I couldn’t help but connect what Clear was teaching to how we manage product development at Crema. So much of our process is based on habitual, agile frameworks like Scrum. Our product teams have ingrained habits like:


  • At the start of each workday, we have a daily stand-up habit where we quickly review what we are doing for the day to optimize progress. 
  • Our product managers and strategists regularly and intentionally connect with our clients to support the habit of ensuring our backlogs are prioritized in the right order.
  • Every week, team members fill out a 15Five report for their manager, which cultivates the habit of collecting ideas and feedback to improve our team, supporting our company value of constant improvement.


These habits have been incredibly valuable for our team. However, in reading Atomic Habits, I discovered a whole new systems-driven approach to optimizing personal and business workflows that has provided valuable inspiration for optimizing our company and product teams moving forward. 


One of the fundamental aspects of Crema culture is that we are results-based. This means that we care more about the output of our work than the number of hours spent in a chair. Clear takes this approach and steps back, highlighting, “Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits.” In the book, Clear makes a very strong case that focusing singularly on a goal is a poor investment with the time it takes to get there. Rather than use the goal as a result, we should focus on habit-based systems to get us there. As one example, don’t focus on running a 5K, focus instead on forming the habits, systems and identity of becoming a runner. You’ll be able to participate in more 5Ks that way — and enjoy the benefits that come from it.


There are many aspects of Clear’s system for forming habits that are worth reading the book for. 


Later in the book, Clear suggests a simple formula that aligns with the specialist leadership that Crema product team members have:


“Habits + Deliberate Practice = Mastery”


If you leverage a system of habits and evolve your habit development overtime, you will achieve mastery. At Crema, our developers, test engineers, and product designers all have individual habits that lead them to being masters in their own craft. Atomic Habits suggests honing in on the formula of habit development in order to generate more mastery.


Like the title suggests, Clear teaches the importance of starting very small in habit formation. Personally, whenever pursuing a new habit, I feel the siren call of going all in as quickly as possible — a recipe for burnout on the habit. Instead, Clear recommends starting small, almost to the point of insignificance. Create a habit of “showing up” to your habit before you start slowly layering on the work within the habit itself. Intentionally starting slow, with a long-tail expectation of results, will be more productive than attempting to achieve something too quickly.


After reading Atomic Habits, I started to think through how this approach could be applied to further enhance product teams at Crema. I found myself postulating:


  • What if we further optimized our development setup to help cultivate increased, healthy efficiency?
  • Are there things we can do to our environment to cultivate even greater gains towards results for the work we produce?
  • Where does it make sense to introduce subtle cues that move our teams forward towards better results? 
  • What are some habits we can adopt that may seem inconsequential today, but over time may be game changers?


So much of what we do in both business and life is based around habits, many of which are unconscious. Habits are more foundational than project plans to the results we have the opportunity to produce. 


Whether for work, life or both, I sincerely recommend reading Atomic Habits and asking the same question I now find myself considering: “Where can I step back and form habits that improve my team and life?”

CTA