Visibly Valuable

In these unsettled times, you can spend time worrying about things you can’t control, or you can take action on things that are within your control.

Here are 10 things you can do as a developer to make yourself more visibly valuable, which may keep you off the RIF list.

1. Understand what is most important to work on. List those items in rank order. Work on the most important thing until it is done, or until you are stuck. Move to item two. Repeat.

How will you know what is most important? Ask your manager. Do not accept “everything is important” or “they are all number one priorities” as an answer. Those are not answers, they are signs that your manager is pressured, stressed, and isn’t taking time to think clearly.

Ask your boss some questions that will help him think.

• If you were doing this work, which would you work on first?

• Which has to be done soonest?

• Which one will bring in/save the most money?

• Which one will help you most?

2. Get more done by doing fewer things at once. Finish one task or project before you start the next (in priority order, of course). I currently have 4 handcraft projects in progress. I work on the green sweater for awhile, then I switch to the gold quilt, until I want to work on the blue hat, and then I skitter off to the purple quilt. I’m having a great time, I’m busy, and ain’t none of my projects getting done.

It’s quite clear to most people (including me) that I could get one of these project finished faster if I concentrated my effort on that project rather than switching back and forth. Some how, many managers forget this when they go to work and hope that multitasking will actually work. But it doesn’t, so don’t even try to do everything at once. It doesn’t work, and actually slows down progress.

3. Understand your own capacity before you commit. Track where your time goes for a couple of weeks. How much time do you spend checking email, answering questions, going to meetings? Look for ways to reduce interruptions and reduce the biggest unproductive use of your time. (Taking breaks is not an unnecessary use of your time. We all know that we do better if we take a little breather from time to time.)

4. Review all the meeting you attend on a regular basis. Notice which meetings have stated goals (that match what actually happens) and which have a published agenda (that’s actually followed). Decline to attend meetings that don’t have a real purpose and a plausible agenda. They will waste your time.

5. Make commitments based on your known capacity, rather than on an ideal 40 hour week. You will become known as some one who meets her commitments, rather than some one who is always late or overly optimistic in her estimates.

6. Work in inch pebbles. Break down projects into tasks that you can complete in a day or two. When you do this, you can report tangible progress at least twice every week. You will become known as someone who gets work done.

7. Test as you go. Check in code at the very least once a day, and run all your tests for that piece of code each time you check in. That way, you will avoid having a false assessment of progress by deferring knowledge of problems until the (false) end of the task.

8. Peer review all fixes. A defect is a clue that the code is difficult to understand or poorly written. So you will avoid breaking something else by having another set of eyes look at the fix.

9. Write tests for the defect fix, and then write a half-dozen tests (at least) in the code around the defect. Defects tend to cluster, so you will be strengthening your code and your feedback system by writing additional tests.

10. Work at a sustainable pace. Tired people make mistakes and write or miss defects. You don’t want to be known as someone who makes mistakes. For most people, a sustainable pace is somewhere between 40-50 hours a week.

I’ll write a list for managers, perhaps next week.