Sharpening The Saw

This week when I read an excellent document written by one of my management colleagues, I was reminded of the need we all have to keep our skills up dated. I’ve included selected excerpts from his document here for all of you to consider the value that you continue to bring to your employers.  I think this is applicable no matter what position you hold and no matter what company you are working for.   Your call to action (and mine as well) is to look over your shoulder a bit and determine what professional goals you should set for this year in order to “sharpen your saw.”

..” As you are no doubt aware, corporate philosophy is changing.  .. .  Throughout the industry, and not just in software development, corporate philosophies are changing to adapt to the current economic facts of life.  Whether you blame it on the prolonged recession, high unemployment, or off-shoring, companies need to be extremely high performing and agile in order to compete in today’s economy.  Average is no longer adequate, as we have seen multiple companies fail over the past several years because they chose not to stand out.  From bookstores to big chain department stores to restaurants, companies struggle to survive and ultimately fail because they are only average.  The companies that do survive are the ones that are the most innovative and have enthusiastic, engaged employees building their products.

.. The hard, cold truth is that what used to be valuable is now common.  This happens over time with almost everything, except for maybe gold.  Take salt for example.  The word salary actually originates from salarium which is Latin for the money used to pay Roman soldiers to buy salt, an extraordinarily expensive necessity of life back in the days without refrigeration, pasteurization and a host of other modern advances making food safe.  Now salt is obviously readily available at your local supermarket for mere pennies. 

To use a more modern reference, you only need to look at your computer.  What used to cost millions of dollars and required huge rooms with massive air conditioners can now be compressed into the size of a phone that fits into your pocket.  Technology is constantly making strides to be faster and cheaper regardless of what it’s being used in.  Moore’s Law is as applicable today as it was almost fifty years ago when Gordon Moore described the trend in relation to transistor counts. 

What this is boiling down to is that your skills as a developer, designer, QA, etc. are also losing value.  If you think about it, twenty years ago, you needed to have a degree and know assembly language or something like C, Pascal or Fortran to be a programmer.  Now, a fourteen-year old can take an iOS development kit and build one of the most popular games available on the iPhone.  That’s not to say there are legions of fourteen-year old children waiting to take your job.  What it does mean is that the technology is out there for those who want it.  To paraphrase Seth Godin, there’s always going to be someone else out there doing the same work as you except for less.  Even if you’re at the top of your game, there’s someone behind you looking to take over that top spot.  This applies to both individuals and companies.  If your skills are remaining static, you’re actually falling behind.

So what does this mean for you?  There are several clichés floating around like “Good isn’t Good Enough” or “Raising the Bar” but it really boils down to “What are YOU going to do for the company.”  … The higher your position in the company, the more value you need to contribute year-over-year. 

(on goal setting)… What value are you offering to achieve this goal that is above and beyond what your job description or core competency is expecting of you?  You’ll notice that this starts to get increasingly more difficult as your position increases within the company.  … Here are a couple other things to consider.  First, not all goals are created equal.  There will be some goals that have more impact on your performance rating than others.  As the adage goes, Quality over Quantity.  Second, just because you completed a goal, doesn’t mean that you successfully accomplished the goal.  Take into consideration the process in which the goals were completed.  For example, if you’ve completed a goal but managed to alienate everyone associated with the project, this does not equate to success.  Working in a team environment, accepting criticism and feedback, negotiating differences in opinions to everyone’s satisfaction are all factors that make a goal, and a project, successful.  Finally, quality is always an underlying issue.  Completing a goal but allowing it to release with significant issues cannot be considered successful, even though it may not be easy to determine this right when the product is released. 

… Remember that your success and the Company’s success are related and intertwined.  The company’s continued success cannot be achieved without energized, motivated and engaged employees.”

Life is Like a Game of Angry Birds

For those of you who know me you understand I am fascinated (addicted might be a better word) by the game Angry Birds.  I am proud to say that I have three stars on all of the games. If you wonder how I have had time to play this game, I have found that I can function on as little as six hours of sleep a night. Now with all that background, back to the topic of this post. Along the way I have come to the realization that life is like a game of angry birds.

As you fling your bird into the air toward those pesky squealing pigs, you cross your fingers and hope your aim is true. That you have found that vulnerable spot in the structure that will let your bird break through and bring the end of days to the pig buried inside. Each bird has his own specific skills and you must learn these along the way in order to make best use of them to annihilate the pigs that lie within.  Back to the parallel to life, as with the game, if you just keep randomly flinging solutions at issues and don’t take time to consider  the value of each solution in and of itself you will likely take much longer to resolve the issue or perhaps not solve it all (pigs with helmets fit this category).

What I have found works best is a studied approach. Assess the skills best suited to meet the objective and look for the proper point in time to use them. Just as you need to review the structure holding the precious pig and fling your best bird at the weak spot, so must you put your best people with the right skills on the task to find the solution that fits the problem.