I just spent the weekend at Odyssey of the Mind World Finals watching a lot of real smart and very creative kids show their solutions to various creative problems. It reminded me that they were good not only because they were smart and talented, but because they spent their time, with a passion, doing this kind of stuff.
I found I spent my time when I was a programmer at … programming. I loved it. I was either on the job programming or at home or school learning something about programming. I was always fascinated by what went wrong in the code and what mistakes looked like. I loved to chase down difficult defects. I usually got to understand the code even better if I had to find and fix a problem. I even recall being somewhat disappointed when my code worked the first time. I had been looking forward to digging back into it (I also loved learning and using debugging tools).
When I became a manager, I spent a lot of my time looking at how the team performs (who works hard, who doesn’t, who is creative, who is methodical) and the data associated with the work we do (schedules, builds, things that go wrong, etc.). I was fascinated about how what we did (e.g., worked hard, or hardly worked) showed up in the data (things got done fast or they didn’t).
In all cases, it was all about where I spent my time. I never felt I was any smarter than those folks (usually engineers and scientist) that were around me (ah, because I wasn’t). However, I always seemed to know more about seemingly esoteric things (performance, cause and effect, defects) then did the typical crowd.
I was also to discover that it was really easy to spent too much time on things that didn’t add a lot of additional value. I would hang out with the programmers, because I understood them, and it took a long time before I realized I needed to go immerse myself in what the hardware folks, marketing folks, business folks, project management folks, etc., were doing. When I inserted myself into these cultures and gained enough knowledge that I started to understand these disciplines, I was better able to manage the software side of the effort and how we interacted with the other disciplines. Later, it would help me manage projects where I had product responsibility beyond just software.
If we want to be good at what we do, then we need to spend time on it. As a project manager, or a manager of any kind, it is easy to be pulled from subject to subject — a dozen in a hour — and never really learn much new in any one of those areas. Sometimes, however, we just need to bite the bullet and spend significant time in an unfamiliar area so we can get better at managing it.
Where do you spend the most of your time and where should you be spending your time?