I’ve been asking myself, “Is this really worth it?” at work an awful lot lately. It’s an important question. Building good software is expensive and time-consuming. It’s why we spend time researching and planning for a new project. Thinking through use cases and evaluating value versus complexity helps us make sure that we are building the right thing.
However, as development on the project begins and requirements and constraints on the project become more apparent, it becomes less clear whether the work we’re doing is really creating any value. (This has been the case on every project I’ve been on, albeit to different degrees.) So I’ve often had a lot of discussions with team members about whether we ought to consider re-prioritizing our work to focus on something that might be of more value to our client. These discussions never led to any major changes, so I continued to spend my time working through tasks that seemed, well, pretty pointless to me.
Constantly having to consider whether your day-to-day work even matters is pretty demoralizing, so I asked my managers for advice on how to change the situation. I was expecting suggestions on how I could offer a more convincing argument that our team should make a change. Instead, the advice I received was to shift my focus towards a few different areas of value. To do so, I was encouraged to ask myself the following questions:
- Is this a chance for you to learn a new technical skill?
- Is this a chance for you to help someone else learn something new?
- Are you building professional and personal connections while doing this work?
- Will doing this work well improve the relationship with the client?
- Will doing this work uncover different opportunities for future improvements?
- Can the experience I gain from doing this work help me provide value on future projects?
Ultimately, it was pointless of me to take individual responsibility for creating what we traditionally think of as value. As a consultant with a pretty limited view of how a client’s business operates, it’s impossible for me to make any prediction related to how often a product would be used, how secure or scalable it would be, the profit it would generate, or the productivity it would boost. These metrics are always out of any one individual’s control. Feeling personally responsible for these indicators means feeling guilt and fear when they will most likely fall short of what you were hoping for.
It is much more reasonable (and sustainable) to focus on learning, building trust, and creating future opportunities. Each of these things are well within our control. And if creating normal value is still a concern lurking at the back of your mind (like it is for me), then it is also worth noting that each of these things requires making a good effort and being honest about the work you are doing and any concerns you may have. Surely these are things that lead to traditional value.