Thursday, March 06, 2008

What You Can Do vs What ONLY You Can Do

Had a bit of a revelation earlier today when speaking to my boss.  We were discussing workload management, and trying to get people to focus on the important tasks while delegating the less important ones.  After all, it's hard for many engineers who are still in that phase where every creation is an artistic endeavor, every program a labor of love, and the last thing they want to do is cut a corner or give it over to someone else who is going to wreck it.  Often it's difficult to even make a decision about what to do, because you know that you could solve a problem in 12 ways, so to pick one immediately makes them ask, "But what about these other ones?"  You could play that game all day.

Here's the exercise for you all: 

First, think about what you are capable of doing, as an engineer.  There's probably a lot on that list, everything from architecture to debugging and QA, from documentation to desktop support if you really had to.  Chances are very good that in any office environment there's someone who doesn't know how to install Microsoft Office, but if you're a competent engineer, you probably do.  But would you want to?  You probably hate it, and personify the word "begrudgingly" as you drop your shoulders and shuffle your way over to her cube while trying very hard not to make sarcastic and patronizing comments that she not only won't get, but will probably find offensive.

Ok, next, think about the things that *only* you can do.  Or, if you're a pessimist who says "everyone is replaceable", think about it as the things you do best.  You've probably been hired for your design skills, or your coding or debugging skills.  True?  Chances are also very good that the stuff you are best at is also the stuff that you enjoy the most.  That's one of the perks of the work that we do, we're good at it because we love it and vice versa.

At this point, isn't the problem obvious?  The more time you spend on #1 equals the less time you spend on #2.  Just because you *can* do something does not mean that you are the best person for that job.  Your goal, then, is to take as much of the #1 stuff as you can and either automate it, or else get somebody else to do it.

Trust me.  You will be a happier person.  You will also get more, higher quality work done.  Everybody wins.

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