Don’t Get Lost in the Details

Someone confided in me that they were dealing with a difficult problem and had to listen to their neighbor complain at length about a difficulty they were dealing with. He said it felt like being in a burn ward and hearing someone break down over a paper cut.

And then I witnessed it for myself.

The issue he was dealing with wasn’t just that the other person was upset about something small, but because they were upset over something which could have practically been ignored.

And then I realized we all do this.

The details are important. Getting lost in the details is a waste of time.

After seeing this from the outside, I was able to remind myself to take a step back, take a deep breath, and focus on the important things any time I began to over-emphasize the impact of something trivial.

Be mindful.

The Rare Good Day

I have had many days where I have been highly engaged.
I have had many days where I was empowered to participate in change.
I have had many days where I’ve had the privilege to help people grow.
I have had many days where I have I contributed to process improvement.
I have had many days where I have had visibility into the metrics of the business and the underlying data.

Recently, I have not had many good days.

This last Friday was a rare good day.

I had not realized how few “good” days I’ve had, until I had one. It got me thinking about why that is, because I have many things in play which are good and which I want as part of my career.

After pondering this for two days, I’ve decided that there are 2 major factor that moves a day from merely including good things to genuinely being a good day.

They were not the inclusion of good things. They were the exclusion of bad things.

1) Less than 10% of my time was spent struggling to get the minimum things necessary to completing my work.
2) I didn’t have to spend time explaining foundational elements in my work which allow me to meet the daily demands I need to meet.

To sum it up, my time was used effectively.

I work for a good company with passionate, supportive leaders. But it is a dynamic environment with aggressive goals, lean resources, and the bulk of leadership is still fairly new to the line of business. I took on the role of the person who runs interference for my team to help them work better, but that has taken an increasing percentage of my time, and everyone I’ve relied on to run interference for me has made changes to pursue other opportunities.

Is this a bad thing? That depends on how I respond to it.

My time is a precious commodity, so it’s time to change how I invest it, so I see a better return. It’s not impossible, it’s simply a changed mindset with changed focus and changed action.

Take time to take a step back, get a little perspective, and make sure you are making the most of your time.

Give Me Something Today

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to start scrubbing some the data from our ticketing system – the one where we distribute customer service requests to the appropriate Ops teams for fulfillment. Directions were brief. I want to know the kinds of work and the time to close so we can look at the mean and the median and re-assess our resource needs for turning things around faster.

Our tickets get flagged with a category and subcategory, so that should be easy, right? Like any system where the bulk of the input is manual entry, the categorization wasn’t standardized and the bulk of the requests were tagged with a generic “standard request”, which obviously tells us nothing.

Fortunately, the database also contained description fields which housed the initial request – often an email.

Next steps? Identify patterns and search for keywords.

Since a number of our workflows touch on common elements the trick was to identify UNIQUE key words. And to do it over no more than the length of one sprint – 2 weeks. And, of course, to do it as additional work on top of existing workload. (To be clear, my goal with existing workload – like many people – is to restrict myself to 45 – 50 hours per week in order to maintain something of a work-life balance.)

I won’t say it wasn’t frustrating, because the following business day, I was handed benchmarks without nearly enough time between them for the way the scope had increased from the previous business day.

The key? Explain that I appreciated the agressive goals and that, although I was certain to fall short, I would provide regular updates and have something actionable by the end date.

The advantage? Not working entirely alone. Although the data scrubbing was all mine, I had the advantage of being able to pair with one of our newer employees who is tireless, practical, and communicative. She scheduled our meetings, bounced ideas off of me, ran the calculations, and put together our visualizations.

The key was that neither one of us worked for the other on this project – we’d individually been tasked with similar expectations by two different leaders, and were able to divide and conquer a very messy data set.

As we are on the eve of the meeting the details will be presented to senior leadership, I can admit that I would have liked to provide more granular detail, but the time wasn’t there to expand on some of the pieces which I think are important. On the other hand, what we have put together is clear, direct, and accurate. More than that, it’s easily the beginning of something actionable.

A younger me would have despaired over the hurdles preventing me from producing a perfect piece of information. But years of experience have taught me the truth of Voltaire’s “The best is the enemy of the good.”

Maybe the coming days will afford me the opportunity to add a bit of polish, but even without, I can safely say the task of the last two weeks is done.