See the big picture
Lacking the wider picture of what you are part of can often be the cause of frustration and uncertainty. In any workplace. Even when the work conditions seem to be great at the first sight.
Try to ask yourself: what really is the thing that I’m working on? What is the value of it for the end users and my customers? Why has the company decided to invest in such a solution and what profit does it generate for the business? How does it fit in the company portfolio and what are the mid-term and long-term project plans?
Never underestimate this information and maximise the effort to get it communicated well. Most probably you spend the majority of your office hours on the project and not having understandable business context puts you in the fog, without an idea where to move. And yes, it negatively impacts the motivation!
Talk to your more experienced colleagues from the project – even if they have slightly different professions. Ask that specific question, call a meeting, organize a project strategy communication workshop. Stop thinking only in short-term tasks – and start to operate on a higher level. Try to validate and measure the output of your work through the value you deliver to the end users – not only through the number of tasks, story points or even worst – number of hours.
Define your personal strategic objectives
Answering the above high-level product overview and similar strategic questions related to product vision and mission will create new areas where you can navigate searching for a purpose at your workplace.
And if you want to structure and materialise your purpose, try to develop your personal (or your team’s) strategic objectives. Yes – they are important! Any form of documenting strategic objectives is acceptable. If you don’t like the tools the company offers you – talk to your leader and communicate your plan. Not having strategic objectives related to the project simply diminishes your value as an employee and also limits you as a professional and as a person. Again, it also has a direct impact on the motivation – even if you don’t realize it.
Having the high-level view of what you are doing – like what is the value and purpose of it as well as your strategic goals – will also help you better organize the time when you feel you are in a bit of a slack. Not to mention it will have positive impact on your daily software delivery and output business value the output.
Remember: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”
Gain the domain knowledge
One way to improve your personal output as an engineer is to gain more knowledge about the domain you are submerged to. It’s always highly appreciated in the teams and can be the source of ideas, innovation and improvements – while writing the software. It makes you perceived as more professional and more senior person.
With time, it opens new career paths towards product management, product design and other product related disciplines. It’s your asset – often equal to engineering skills. The decision makers don’t always know the tools, however, they know the products and the business domain. Have an equal interest in the product, the domain, and the technology.
Use the tools – don’t embrace them
Let’s be honest: Not many people notice when you deliver a piece of software using the coolest library or a new indie programming language. In many cases, your output can even suffer from it if the learning curve is too steep.
If you, however, increase the page views, users engagement or other important business indicators you will become a company superstar.
Think about it! Use tools as a way to achieve a more valuable business output, not as an art for art’s sake. The numbers will speak whether you like it or not. Sooner or later you will be seen through the prism of delivered business value – not the frameworks, technologies and languages. Also, sometimes, try to disturb the product you are working on, not only the tools and technologies you are using.
Focus your expertise
Professional development is important, learning new skills in today’s IT world is a key to surviving on the market and in the company. And there are also pitfalls related to this. Learning every new library can potentially make you nothing but a person not really knowing any technology on expert level. A jack of all trades, master of none, so to speak.
Try to reduce the technological buzz around you and concentrate on the value you deliver. Don’t bother to study every new library and every new framework – they will be gone in a couple of months or years anyway.
Also, try to maximize your output by delegating the work where you are not expert to others. Usually, there are people around you, that are willing to help and do it instead of you. There are units in the companies willing to take part of your responsibilities and help you to work within your comfort zone.
Look for inspirations in other industries
“Great artist steal” – steal from other industries, other business domains – there is no more noble way of stealing then trying to get inspired in the areas different than yours.
Try to get inspired by something far away from your daily work industry and translate it into your product’s feature. Try to increase the value of a product by doing it.
Talk to the end users
Delivery retrospectives in the project teams are great – but what I learnt is they usually lack real end user feedback. Not from product or tech people – but the real users. Everything works – but no one is really happy.
Try to identify the real end users in the system you operate. Have an unofficial launch talking about your project, prepare a survey with specific project questions – or even have a beer together discussing how they use the software. Invite them for a meeting. Spend a day working together. At the end of the day, they are your final destination. Often you will discover defects you would never imagine, ways of using your software it was never created for and new features with high business value.
Don’t accept being limited
Lack of support or feedback from senior team members in regards to innovation, product extensions or new features you propose can quickly lead to high level of frustration and highly diminished motivation.
As an employee – never accept this kind of a situation. There are always people around you willing to help and solve the situation. Communicate, escalate, insist and act on it. Prove your ideas in the lens of a business value. Document them. Apply through more formal ways raising new ideas like for instance objectives and key results.
Also, often, be prepared to be proven wrong. Every good product manager expects you to be proactive and come up with the new ideas – even if you don’t see it.
Be the leader
It does not really matter which position you have – you are always the leader of the value you deliver through your daily work. The main difference between you and your boss is the area and the size of responsibility you have.
Don’t be afraid to gain more responsibility. Study leadership and apply the theory and rules to your daily work. Be a role model for yourself – and with time, you will become a role model for others. That’s how real bosses emerge. It’s easier then you think. Do it and get promoted.