Can You Hard-Boil an Egg?

My favorite chef, Jacques Pepin, says that he judges a chef by what he does with eggs. That eggs are so simple in concept, but require precision to get right. He goes further to talk about the importance of technique, and that learning to perfectly hard boil an egg is where some people should start.

So, what does this have to do with anything? Well, for a lot of people, we are happy to repeat what we always do in our jobs without much consideration of it is getting the right result or if it is correct. While not all things are a repeatable recipe, many activities we perform can be improved upon by attentiveness to detail.

Results First

Before you can attend to the details of anything you have to know what good is. Many groups tend to emphasize task completion as “Good,” but the reality is that many times the results of those tasks aren’t usable or adequate.

So, take time talking to the people who will consume your results to know what good is.

Think about what good is from your point of view too. Now you can write those results down and experiment toward achieving them. Since we’re talking about detail, don’t be afraid to get very detailed. Need to write down what size font to use? Go ahead.

Record the Steps

This part gets a little harder, since much of what I do and many of us do is knowledge work. It is hard to be very prescriptive.

On the other hand, we do execute actual steps every time we attempt something. We want to acknowledge the steps we’re taking so that we can take a guess at matching the results, and make sure each step is executed to the appropriate level of detail.

Now, many times we can’t evaluate each step, and only after many finish can we assess it against the results. That’s fine as long as you do check against your intended results. If you expected that someone would use your excel document without modification, did they? And if not, what step needs to change or more attentiveness added?

Iterate

After you’ve tried out whatever activity it is, you need to decide what you’d like to attempt differently or perfect more next time. This can be a bit of a guessing game, but this shows an attentiveness to the activities and achieving the right results.

So here are some areas I tend to focus on when I work with groups.

  • Is the software built in a way to prevent as many bugs as we think?
  • Do people use it the way we thought?
  • How do we collect feedback in a form that lets us make a decision?
  • Does this particular agile meeting meet its purpose
  • How do we check in on something that is taking a long time?
  • When we document something, how are we preparing for our readers?

None of this is easy, and there are bodies of work to help with each. Sometimes, due to the nature of our work, the steps can’t quite be repeated the same way. However, none of those complexities prevent us from being attentive to the details that lead us to the results we want.

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