Thursday, 13 September 2007


We've had some discussion at work lately about professionalism and a manager posted an interesting list of 'attributes of professionalism' which I thought was worth looking at (the list is taken from a book called True Professionalism by David Maister). Some attributes on the list are pretty straightforward - taking pride in your work, showing initiative and being a team player for example - but others tend to be talked about a little less and I'd like to pull out some of those here.

Do whatever it takes to get the job done: don't watch the clock
Many people are accustomed to being paid by the hour throughout university so the switch to a salaried role can be challenging. There's a shift in thinking required from "I am being paid for X hours work" to "I am being paid to get this job done". One of the realities of software development is that there will be crunch times where 40 hours a week may not be enough (although hopefully projects will be managed sufficiently carefully that this happens only occasionally). There will often be business objectives and deadlines that cannot shift to meet technical realities and, at the end of the day, it just needs to be done.

Be eager to learn the business and roles played by those you serve
This is an interesting one I hadn't thought of specifically but which I can relate to - especially in a software development environment. A developer who is willing to really get to know and understand the business and users of the application is going to do a far better job than one who works from the assumption that the world is populated entirely by developer-type-folk. In addition, clients will pick up on and respond to a genuine desire to understand where they're coming from and will appreciate working with you. This ties in very closely with the next one:

Understand and think like those you serve so you can represent them when they are not there
This is, again, especially true in a software development context. If you understand the business context well enough to be able to represent the clients needs at internal meetings (including the meetings you hold inside your own head trying to make decisions) the resulting software is going to line up much more closely to what is going to make a difference for your end users.

Accept criticism constructively: be eager to learn and develop
This is not often thought of as an attribute of professionalism but, if you think about it, it's actually rather crucial. Willingness to learn comes with a desire to be the best you can be and to do your job as well as you can - which pretty much sums up the entire list! Accepting criticism is always hard - I certainly struggle with it! - but it's usually the best way to improve what you do. Look on it as an opportunity :)

Get involved and don't just stick to your assigned role
Not just valuable to the client/project but also a great way for you to expand your knowledge. The broader your knowledge base the more helpful you will be able to be and the quicker things will be able to get done (since there's no need to wait for the one person who knows about whatever it is). You do need to be careful though as some people will see your 'getting involved' as 'stepping on their toes' or 'trying to take over'. Try to hit a balance and ensure every member of the team is still clearly valued.

Be observant, honest and loyal
Lots of things to talk about in there... but mostly pretty obvious. Being observant relates closely to taking initiative - see what needs to be done and go do it. Honesty is critical to earning respect and trust - especially from clients. Remember that sometimes honesty means being willing to tell them the bad news and not trying to hide or gloss over it. Loyalty could be interpreted many ways... not having read the book I'll interpret it as not going behind anyone's back, protecting and supporting the members of your team and backing up your management in public even if you disagree in private.

Finally, the last point in the list really sums up the entire thing:


Sunday, 2 September 2007

Decide to act

I've spent the last couple of days at a first aid course (which I recommend by the way, everyone should know that stuff) and one of the things they emphasised was that the first thing that needs to happen in any emergency situation is for someone to recognise an emergency exists and then decide to act.

We talked a lot about this in psychology courses at university too - it's frighteningly common for someone to be in trouble and for all the people who could have helped to do nothing. We talk about 'safety in numbers' but the reality is exactly the opposite - the more bystanders there are, the less likely anyone is to do anything. After all, "someone else probably already has"...

Side note: If you're ever in a situation where you need help and everyone is standing around staring blankly, single someone out of the crowd: "You, in the blue jacket, go call an ambulance." Once they're singled out they're usually happy to help.

People also seem to have an incredible hang-up about 'interfering', especially if we have some impression that the problem is within someone else's family. The family violence issue we're talking a lot about in New Zealand at the moment is a good example of this.

But I'm not planning on writing a post about first aid or group behaviour, as interesting as they are. I've been thinking that the same type of behaviour seems to appear in other situations too - including at work. Sometimes it's all too easy to identify a problem, think to yourself "someone should do something about that" and then go get a coffee. It's easy to assume that, since the first requirement for a management position is mind-reading abilities, all managers will know immediately if something isn't happening as it should.

But maybe, just maybe, you are the someone who should do something. And maybe, just maybe, your manager can't read your mind and, because no-one else has talked to them either, doesn't know there's a problem. Is it possible?

Many people are, quite rightly, concerned about becoming the person who always whines about everything. Be assured that I'm not advocating that at all! People who complain about every little thing that it's possible to complain about drive me just as mad as I'm sure they drive you. Please don't do that :) What I am suggesting though is that, sometimes, there are genuine issues which need to be sorted out so that everyone can move forward and get the job done faster/better/more happily and those issues shouldn't be left for the magical 'someone' who will fix everything. You're someone aren't you? Why don't you do it?

Call me an idealist if you will, but here's how I see things: if you have a manager whose job description includes anything along the lines of 'team leadership' or 'ensuring efficiency and well-being of staff' then that person's job is to make your life easier. If you let them know what, in your work life, needs to made easier then you're helping them do their job. How nice of you :)

Again, don't bug them too much! Your manager is just as human as you are, which means they can get just as busy and stressed as you can. Don't just roll up to their desk and start your lecture - ask if you can make a time for a chat. Then you can grab a meeting room, close the door, and lecture to your heart's content for the half an hour they've set aside. It's not that difficult, and doesn't take much time, to respectfully and clearly state your concerns and finish with "I just thought you should be aware. Let me know there's anything you'd like me to do."

If you're still wondering whether to act or not, consider this: if you're having issues with something chances are that someone else is too. They're just assuming that someone else has already said something, that their manager has read their mind and that they shouldn't interfere. Do that person a favour and go sort things out for them.

Final note: remember that the step before 'decide to act' is to 'identify an emergency exists'. Make sure the issue you're having really is an issue and really is something that can be changed. Sometimes you just need to grit your teeth and get on with things, that's just life. If you're not sure which category your issue fits into, go talk to someone anyway and ask them whether they think it's worth doing something about.

Old cliched quote which is still true and rather appropriate:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage
to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.