Have you ever been told you have “a lot of potential”? My teachers told me that. Some of my early managers told me that, too. I thought I was working up to my potential, so I was frustrated when I heard that.
Then, I changed a few things about how I worked. I used inch-pebbles, so I finished work every day or every two days. I used deliverable-based planning, so I could show progress, not documents. I used timeboxes, especially for things I hated to do.
I wasn’t perfect. I still heard that I had potential. I started keeping an engineering notebook of all the times I had made stupid mistakes. I didn’t mind making smart mistakes, but infinite loops, off-by-one, or pointer problems? Those were stupid mistakes. I learned how to make fewer of them.
I wish I could tell you I paired or used test-driven development back when I was a developer. Nope, I didn’t. I did pair briefly in the ’80s, and not by choice. I did use continuous integration and frequent testing. I loved CI and quick tests. They told me whether my product was working.
My engineering notebook was the catalyst for my working up to my potential. I had the opportunity to review my notes, see the decisions I’d made, and perceive the effects of those decisions.
When I became a manager, that engineering notebook turned into my management notebook. I needed to understand the effects of my decisions because the effect often had a lag time from the decision.
I found writing things down, journaling, to be a big piece of living up to my potential.
Here is what I did:
- I decided I would work to my full potential, whatever that was. Deciding was a key factor for me.
- I gathered data about my daily, weekly, monthly work.
- I delivered small and often. As a developer, I integrated small features into the code base as often as I could. As a manager, I delivered my work in chunks and iterated on the work. I made my decisions as transparent as possible.
- I could show other people my progress and get feedback.
I had the opportunity to assess my potential and see if I was living up to it.
How about you? What do you do to live as full a life as you can? You might have your own way of living up to your potential. I’d love to hear about it.