#015 - Why pitching in matters, no matter who you are
Welcome to Issue #015 of The Forcing Function - your guide to delivering the right outcomes for your projects and your users.
✍️ Insights: If you think that something isn't your job, is beneath you, or is for those above you - think again.
🤔 Made me think: Prevention versus cure.
👨💻 Worth checking out: Day in the life of the #1 BBQ in Texas.
If you think that something isn't your job, is beneath you, or is for those above you - think again.
My childhood was all about working for my Dad.
Whilst my friends played football, I bulk laminated dinner menus. Whilst they watched cartoons, I was translating documents and sorting out what needed to be done. Whilst they had the summer off, I had to help out at our restaurants.
Back then, I felt that it wasn't fair.
But, it was his way of teaching me valuable life lessons. To instil his values within me. To set me up for success in the best way he knew how.
One of his lessons was about taking responsibility, even if it isn't necessarily your job.
When it needs to be done, get it done.
In a commercial kitchen, one of the hardest jobs isn't the line cook churning out dish after dish to the same standard in the searing heat of a manic dinner service.
It's actually one of the least-respected jobs yet the most critical: the kitchen porter.
The unsung heroes hidden away at the back of the kitchen. Hands gloved in rubber, constantly enduring scalding hot water, and working furiously in a kitchen that's always too hot. All to tackle the seemingly Sisphyean task of cleaning the near-constant pile of dirty dishes and pans - and there are still hours of service to go.
Chefs and line cooks need clean pots and pans. Diners need clean cutlery and crockery. The restaurant needs to remain clean and avoid being shut down by environmental health.
Without the kitchen porter, there would simply be no service.
To me, there's no great chef without a great team.
Daniel Boulud | Michelin 2* chef and restauranteur
Take command. Accept responsibility. Be a leader.
That lesson I learnt from my Dad continues to serve me on countless projects as a lead business analyst.
On a software implementation project, the head chef is akin to being the programme manager - setting the vision and accountable for the execution. Being the kitchen porter is akin to being the junior analyst in the programme management office. They're doing the grunt work of chasing people for updates and putting together the necessary status reports and presentations.
Without that junior analyst, the programme as a whole wouldn't know where it was, how much it had spent, and how far off track it is.
Seth Godin's matrix provides another perspective what good kitchen porters do.
It succinctly shows, by the choices you make, which archetype you choose to be. It simply asks if you're choosing to take command of the situation. And if you're taking responsibility for your actions.
When in doubt, exercise the agency you have, and aim to take the mantle of "The Leader". If nothing else, you may earn the grudging respect of your team by fixing what's causing them pain and misery.
If a kitchen porter can make this choice to excel in their critical job, so can you.
PS: This matrix is also useful for analysing your stakeholders' behaviours. By identifying their preferences in various typical scenarios, you can use this as another data point to understand what's driving their behaviour. A topic for another issue.
But, be strategic where you can
First and foremost, if a job absolutely needs doing right now and will result in dire consequences if it doesn't get done, then get it done. There's no question if it needs to be done. Either do it yourself or find someone else but get it done.
As this poem by Charles Osgood, a veteran CBS news anchor, eloquently puts it:
"There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.
Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.
Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job.
Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realised that Everybody couldn’t do it.
It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have."
For everything else, it's important that you don't say yes to everything and you don't try to do everything that no-one else wants to. You already have a primary role to fulfil. You have limited capacity, you need to use it wisely, and there is always something that's needs to be worked on.
I cannot over-emphasise how important this is for business analysts. We are easily and erroneously seen as fulfiling the "Being Anything" role in a project team. In Issue 11, I wrote about this from the perspective of understanding what the project needs and to be open about your limitations.
So, consider these two key factors in deciding what you want be "The Leader" on.
Projects over tasks: Prioritise doing projects, which are defined and will end, to fix that pain point. Avoid those business-as-usual tasks as you'll end up being the dumping ground for all those repetitive jobs that are thankless.
Experience over ease: Prioritise taking the roll-up-your-sleeves project. The project that's messy, time-consuming, and painful in ways you can't imagine. That same project that accelerates your learning and gives you a deep understanding and insight into how the team and the business truly works.
All or nothing: Prioritise, with the previous two points in mind, solving those problems that either fix a massive pain point or deliver outstanding value. Avoid middle-of-the-road outcomes which people are meh about.
Taking one example from my projects where, as a side project, I created a fully-documented toolkit for how to prepare, manage, and get sign off on multi-million pound business cases.
At the time, there was no standard way across the team of how these were done. The stakeholders who had to sign off along the way were constantly annoyed by the last-minute asks and deadlines. No-one seemed to want to figure out what the process should be - content as they were in muddling through.
Even though this wasn't strictly my role, doing this gave me a much better understanding of how to get these done and it helped the team become far more efficient at producing these.
Mucking in when needed helped my career. Choosing not to be a whiner, a martyr, or a victim helped expand my career by being proactive and conscientious. Being strategic helped propel my career growth faster and further.
🤔 Made me think
Prevention versus cure.
Whilst getting involved in getting problems and pain points resolved is good, what's better is stopping them from getting to that level of criticality and misery in the first place.
Even if you don't get the public accolades for doing so.
🧑💻Worth checking out
📺 Day in the life of the #1 BBQ in Texas | Alvin Zhou
On the subject of restaurants, enjoyed this well-produced documentary by Alvin Zoho (of the 72+ hour beef wellington video) on Goldee's BBQ in Kennedale, Texas.
🖖Until next Thursday ...
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For now, thank you so much for reading this week's issue of The Forcing Function and I hope that you have a great day.
PS: Thanks to P for reading drafts for me.