September 16, 2005
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As a high-tech worker, I am sure you try to compartmentalize
your work. You make budgets, timelines and project plans, but you fail
to notice one important aspect of your work...nothing is ever finished.
Sure, you might get the PC or network installed or the new program operating.
You might even think the project is “complete”, but tomorrow
will bring changes, requests and problems that put the lie to your false
sense of closure. Just like the painters of the Eiffel Tower or the Golden
Gate Bridge, you might reach the end of the job one day, but you soon
find that it is simply time to start all over again.
Think in circles, not in lines
Thinking in a straight line, from start to finish can lead to a number
of problems in your work. One of the worst examples is the project that
is obsolete before it is complete. I am sure you have run into a program
like this, or will very soon. Thinking only about the end of the project
can cause you to blindly keep moving forward even when the destination
has moved. Your project doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so neither can
your project planning.
Each project needs to be constantly re-evaluated. Has new hardware appeared
that functions more quickly at half the cost? Has the manufacturer significantly
upgraded their software? Have estimates, reviews and budgets been proven
flawed? If so, don’t keep going down the wrong road. Change direction
immediately. In today’s project thinking, though, this can be very
difficult. No one wants to admit a mistake was made, even if there was
little or no way to know at the time.
Instead of thinking of projects as a straight-line progression from beginning
to end, you need to start thinking of projects as circular. A project
might begin at any point on the circle but there is never truly an end.
In some cases, you might come around the perimeter of the circle to the
Start/Finish line, but you will immediately see that the end is also a
new beginning of a new project. Programmers often begin working on the
new revision of their software immediately after, or even while they are
completing the current one. In other projects, you might jump off the
circle entirely, spinning off a new project, while abandoning the old.
Perhaps the company has suddenly decided not to pursue a new business
area. That project stops wherever it is in the cycle and you jump off
to the new project.
Viewing projects as circular gives you the freedom to change, diverge
from the plan, strike out for new territory, if the project calls for
such a move. Use this metaphor enough and you begin to see that projects
aren’t a horse race to the finish line, but more of a logical and
holistic progression along the circle.
You should also consider your career as a circle. While we often diagram
career growth as a series of stair steps, the truth is often different.
In today’s business world, we often spin our career off to new jobs
and new companies. Sometimes this is planned and, at others, change catches
us unaware. One circle lies half-completed, while we may make numerous
circuits around another. I had one particular time in my career where
I completed the circle 5 times, rising slightly higher at each revolution
until I jumped off to pursue another line of work. In some cases, like
myself, you might be traveling multiple circles at once. In my case, I
have separate, but related, careers in technology, writing and even a
small one in music.
A career never lies in a straight line. Even in the old days of the “Company
Man” it took the form of stair steps rising up to the corner office
on the top floor. A career is an endless cycle, with beginnings and endings
occurring each and every day.
If you are having a difficult time understanding and managing your projects,
or your career, you might require a new way of thinking. The concept of
the circle and the cycles they represent is an ancient one, but applying
this concept to our modern day cycles might just be a great way of enhancing
your high-tech career.