This post is part of the series The Best Tools and Techniques for Winning at Business and Life

One of the cool things about working with developers, sysadmins, and customers is that the environment is changing constantly.

The Habit

We technical folks often fall into one of two mindsets when we’re working through a problem.  We either get laser focused on the end goal — forsaking any and all incremental improvements along the way in favor of that sweet victory that waits for us in the end, or we revel in the flow of the technical process itself until we are surprised — if not a little let down — in the end when we’ve implemented an elegant solution.  This is natural.  It’s why we’re good at what we do.

But if we’ll take force ourselves to pause during the moments when we’ve made positive progress and take notes of how we got here, we’ll end up doubling the bounty when we beat the big boss at the end of the level.  By taking time to document what it was that got us here, we’re no longer just solving this problem — we’re taking time to solve this kind of problem and not just for ourselves, but for anyone who might follow in our footsteps.

The Method

As mentioned above, I have found it very beneficial to as completely as possible document how it is that I do my work.  The idea came while reading The eMyth Revisited by Michael Gerber, and it’s a simple but vital discipline to have in order to move from art to science in your field.

When we’re starting out we think of what we do as an art form, and there’s no one in the world who can do it as well as we can.  Most of us stick with that mindset and quickly fall into the trap of limiting mindsets.  We’re grateful for the work but there’s only so much of it we can do.  This is where packaging our methods into a process can take our success to the next level.

Converting from Art to Science

Most of us can identify tasks we’ll need to repeat again in the future.  I recommend keeping a watchful eye out for those tasks, and committing to making the next time you do the last time you perform that task as an art form.  The next time you perform that task, you’ll write down in detail how you did it.  Write it in detail – step by step – so that anyone can follow it with little or no knowledge of the art at which you’ve become so skilled.

The next time you perform this task – and I know this is hard because like you, I’m an artist and there’s no one better at this task than me – don’t rely on instinct.  This time use your documentation.  Read it step by maddening step as if you had never done it before.  Pretend you’re an intern learning the ropes of this business and are reading the words from a learned master of the art.

Replay.  Revise.  Repeat.

Think for a second.  Did the documentation give you everything you needed to get the work done?  Or did you have to rely on instinct for parts of it.  If you had to use your gut, go back and update the documentation.  Commit to using this document every. single. time you perform this task until the end of time.  Each time you do, the documentation will get better, and someday in the not-very-distant future, magic will happen.

Someone will ask you to do the task and you’ll realize you’ve documented it so well that anyone can do it.  So well in fact that because anyone can do it, you no longer need to do it.  You can provide the documentation to the person who asked, or you can delegate the work to someone on your team, complete with detailed instructions on how to complete it.  The point is, you’ve successfully created a process that allows your art form to be done by someone else, so you can create new art.  

That’s how you begin to say yes to more opportunity and succeed with work than you ever thought possible.

Next Steps: Use Your Template as a Template

Once the fix is in place let’s take the next step in creating the ultimate elegant solution by formatting our notes into a reusable template. Write out a solution that works for this type of problem in all its forms. For whatever variation of this issue may come along may our solution be the solution that works.

Let’s make the template beautiful, effective, and simple. Let each step be so well-planned that the outcomes our readers experience are the outcomes we have predicted.
With a working template in place, build it into a template for templates.  Use it to make templates for other solutions.  Take note of patterns we discover from template to template and use those patterns to create automation. With that we can package a way to either prevent the problem, or to solve it reliably on command.

And with that, we amplify the value of our solutions.

The Tools

The E-Myth Revisited
Next Page: Complete Work Faster and Better With Scrum

This post is part of the series The Best Tools and Techniques for Winning at Business and Life

Leave a Reply