Thursday, March 10, 2016

Finding A Sense of Urgency In A Relaxed Environment

Finding Urgency in a Relaxed Work Environment

I am one lucky duck.  I work for an incredible employer who values each and every one of its employees.  We work in a relaxed environment where the I.T. professionals are treated well and where our business owners know our worth.  Not only that, they are a part of our teams, resulting in a high level of trust between the business and the technical sides.  That in and of itself is a rare occurrence.  Sometimes I think I’ve reached employment nirvana.

Other times, however, I have been beset by a nagging little voice.  That little voice probes and pokes me when I review our backlog or talk to our product owners about future product plans.  I can’t help but wonder “Are we moving as fast as we can or should?”

A little background here.  I come from a series of workplaces where I.T. had little to no control over timelines.  I come from a background where I.T. resources were treated as highly interchangeable assets in a cost center.  We could be replaced with little to no fuss or muss.  The business drove our timelines and I.T. was tasked with fulfilling their requests at the timeline specified or risk being replaced.  As a result, we were driven to work at a fast and furious pace.  As you may expect, we never lacked for a sense of urgency bordering on fear.

Coming to my new employer, I experienced prolonged cultural shock.  The pace at my new employer proceeded much more gracefully and I.T. was able to negotiate with project/product ownership to determine the timelines (unless they were driven by regulatory compliance).  This is when I started hearing that little nagging voice.

The sense of urgency that I was missing was mostly of my own making.  I was so accustomed to having the hammer hanging over my head, I didn’t know how to act without it.  I perceived my own work and those of my co-workers as proceeding at a snail’s pace.  I didn’t like this state of being, nor did I think that I or my team members deserved my own harsh judgement.  I had to find that urgency in the relaxed and respectful environment I found myself inhabiting.

To do so, I started by looking at the business.  I thought about what we deliver to them.  As an I.T. team, we deliver business value.  We may not directly make dollars for the company through selling our software, but we provide value to our company’s position when we give them quality software that meets their immediate business needs.  Therefore, it is extremely important to do the very best job we can to understand not only what they are asking for, but the context underlying the request.  It’s also important to understand what client requests and feedback is driving that request.  Often times, we can start coding early on and perform the requirements gathering as we work.  This can be costly, as requirements discovered later rather than sooner can cost time and money, and maybe even a client’s business.  I found urgency in the need to do the best business process analysis and requirements elicitation as early as possible. 

Next, I looked at the technical discovery and design process.  I wanted to work with my team to create rapid prototypes at a very low cost.  I pushed for use of wire frames and even hand drawn workflows to test out workflows with little to no developer time needed.  If these prototypes failed, it would be a matter of hours at most to revise them and present them anew to the client.  I found an urgency in failing rapidly with cheap prototypes rather than wasting developer time in creating a solution only to have it rejected by the business at a late date in the project. 

Finally, I looked to testing.  How could we as a team perform testing in a more efficient and time-frugal way?  I started looking at my own testing and how I may have been overlapping with the testing provided by our more than capable QA team.  I talked to the QA in my own team and discussed the matter with other Business Analysts.  This introspection and questioning helped me and channel my sense of urgency and help my team and the QA folks find opportunities for improvement.  It was incremental value, but value none the less.

My search ultimately led me to understand that you don’t need looming and unrealistic deadlines to have urgency.  You don’t need the looming specter of a highly competitive employee review process to drive you to new levels of heroics.  Urgency is there all around you to find.  Continuous improvement and reflection on how we work individually and as a team can fulfill that need.  Understanding the business drivers and the wants and needs driving requests adds to that sense of urgency and the need to please the customer, the team, and yourself.

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