Someone Else’s Problem?

I make great effort estimations that are accurate about 50% of the time. growth projections as well. Not so great you may say, but I assure you I spend the exact number of hours I plan on my projects. The problem is what happens in between and after those hours. Clients change their minds. Colleagues don’t get it. Meetings run long. Partners don’t deliver the parts I need. Projects somehow run late. But it’s never my fault, is it?

We work with (mostly) functioning adults that strive to do their work well. Everyone does their part, yet so many projects and processes end up being less than the sum of their parts. Today it is clear that your success depends on many things around you, from your colleagues to your country. We often forget that for us to be able to do our best, we must enable those around us to do theirs.

Your Team

Thankfully, most of us are aware that our own work improves if we help our colleagues. Taking the time to help your teammate learn or overcome a problem helps the group get ahead. Conversely, even if you feel good about performing better than your peers, you won’t get very far in the long term. Just this week, sharing my analytics knowledge with my team has help me sharpen my skills while they deliver better projects.

Many firms, including Facebook, have famous signs in their offices saying ‘At [Company X] there’s no such thing as someone else’s problem’. Remember that if you want your work to be the best it can be.

The Company

What I find baffling is how the support we seek within our team disappears when dealing with other departments or projects. Some competition is healthy, but rivalry between teams is not sustainable. While resources are finite, working with other departments rather than against them is a much better way of guaranteeing you’ll make the most of what you have.

External Partners

In addition to your colleagues, many of our projects also include collaboration with many third parties. Service providers, business partners and contractors all supply crucial elements to make our products shine. And yet, we often see these relationships become blame games and bickering over obligations. In too many projects I’ve seen, a company maintains a relationship with an important client by blaming shortcomings on providers, while the end result is never more than mediocre.

Would you prefer these partners to be catalysts of your success or scapegoats for your failure? Just like teams within your company, supporting the other parties in your value chain is crucial to creating the success that you envision.

Market and Environment

You know making a great product is not enough (not even with good marketing). You must make sure your customers have everything they need to get the value you promise them. In Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey Moore discusses the ‘Whole Product’: everything your client needs to get the full value. For example, if you’re selling cars, customers should have access to roads and fuel (though you don’t produce them). If you sell software, clients should have the hardware and know-how to implement and run it. If you market 3D printers, your clients will need raw materials and software standards for modelling. You get the point.

In the book, Moore demonstrates that many companies failed to conquer the mainstream market after a promising start because they did not work towards a ‘Whole Product’. To take the example of Better Place: you could make an excellent electric car, but people just won’t buy it if there aren’t enough quick-charging stations. How do you make a whole product? Precisely by encouraging your colleagues and partners to develop them through productive collaborations.

Conclusion

You can be the very best at what you do, but for any endeavour worth the effort, you will never work in a vacuum. To care about what you create means to care about the people and processes that enable its success from beginning to end. While not everything is under our direct control, limiting focus to our strict job description is clearly counterproductive. The key to your success lies just as much in your team, company, and market as it does in you — act accordingly!

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