Help Me Help You

June 11, 2009

What makes the company that provides an online service successful?  At a mid-level view, the list is large, so I’ll focus on the items related to this posting:

  1. Working smarter, not harder
  2. Try, learn, and improve
  3. Solve problems that matter to it’s customers, employees, and shareholders

These often mean different things to leadership than they do to an engineer like me.  We share the same high-level goals, but our lenses are naturally different.  Managed correctly, this is a good thing.  However, it’s human nature for these differences to create problems.

When the organization chooses a direction that I know from experience will violate one of the 3 items above, I find myself in a quandary.  Some people tell me to “support the business.”  Others tell me “it’s just a job.”  Personally, I take great pride in my work and feel very personally dissatisfied knowingly choosing (or being forced to choose) the wrong path.  I also want to do what I can to help the business not only succeed, but thrive.  I don’t like to lead a mediocre career.  So what should I do in these situations?

The answer might seem simple: speak up!  You can safely assume that I do.  So what’s wrong?  Where is the message getting lost?  How does an admin/engineer provide cost/benefit or ROI analysis on something as vague as architecture (especially without the resources to test its limits)?

There’s too much to cover in one posting, so here’s an outline of what I’m thinking about for my next posts:

  • Trust your senior engineers in their domains of expertise; allow them to make mistakes (see #2)
  • Allocate sufficient resources towards becoming and staying proactive, not reactive (#1)
  • Complexity kills; follow the KISS principle (#1)
  • Don’t re-invent the wheel (#2, #3)
  • Enforce processes via consequences (#1, #2, #3)
  • Balancing long- and short-term (#1, #2, #3)
  • Personal and organizational effectiveness topics (e.g. Stephen Covey’s publications)

This is meant to be a series of interactive posts — which is part of the reason for breaking it up into several digestible chunks.  I hope to absorb and integrate the feedback that I get.  Please share and comment!  Thank you!