This one hooks me all the time. I certainly try to be my best at all times. And, when I've worked for companies, I want to make them the best, too. But here's the sad truth: you don't have to be the best. You just need to be better than your competition.
That said, how do you know if you're better than your competition? That where data helps:
- How many customers are you acquiring?
- How many customers do you retain?
- How many of the strategically important projects do you complete with some degree of success?
- How long does it take you to complete those projects?
There are other metrics, but these help me start. Notice that a technical manager can't directly affect the customer metrics, except with the completing of important work. That's where knowing (or defining) your group's mission is critical.
Here are some missions managers have explained to me:
- From a development manager: Provide for the care and feeding of the developers.
- From a test manager: Find the Big Bad Bugs before the customers do.
- From a test manager: Know the state of the system under test and be able to report on it at a moment's notice.
- From a documentation manager: Reduce the number of calls to support by half.
- From a development manager: Ship the darn product.
Once a manager knows his/her mission, it's possible to make reasonable decisions about what work to do and not do. The development manager whose mission is to “Ship the darn product” is not about to do the same amount of coaching that the development manager whose mission is to “Provide for the care and feeding of the developers.”
Missions that lead to illegal or unethical behavior aren't reasonable. But any other mission that leads the company to a better situation than the current one is a reasonable mission. And if you don't know your mission, you can't help the company become the best.
Remember, it's not about being the best. It's about being operationally savvy so you can be better than your competition. That will help you be the best.