Twelve Culture Series: Excellence is in our DNA at Twelve
by Ellen Morley
I like to think that my husband and I gave our three kids many fine qualities; however, a natural ability for athletics was not one of them. In high school my son decided to join the track team. At his first meet he was running the 800m. He came in dead last. By a lot. My heart broke a bit as I watched him fall further and further behind. Then something wonderful happened. At the finish line, the spectators applauded him. He came up to me sweaty and smiling and said, “That’s my best time ever!” He hadn’t failed — he had excelled.
We often equate excellence with either perfectionism or winning. It is neither. At Twelve, excellence happens because we care about what we do. We know that our work has a positive impact on others and is a reflection of our whole team. Here are some of the things I’ve learned at Twelve that help me strive towards excellence.
1. Remember that technology and people go hand in hand
In 2008, Qantas spent $40M on their “Jetsmart” project. Then engineers who were to use the system weren’t involved in it’s requirements or design, and after implementation it was quickly dubbed “Dumbjet” because it was so difficult to use. After a few years, the system was scrapped.
At Twelve we use an Agile method that allows us to show users, leaders and IT our work throughout the development process. I was recently looking over a user’s shoulder as he tried to use a new dashboard. I saw immediately that simply flipping the position of two items on the screen would make it much more intuitive. Working closely with users throughout the development process is extremely rewarding and produces great results.
2. (Fail) Be flexible
Thomas Edison famously said he didn’t fail 99 times while developing the electric light bulb; rather, he discovered 99 methods that didn’t work. Of course, it’s hard to be so sanguine about failure when deadlines loom. So to put it in a more corporately correct manner, you need to be flexible. Sometimes you need to try multiple approaches to get something right. Sometimes requirements change dramatically. Sometimes clients aren’t 100% sure of what they want and need to see options. We keep what works, discard what doesn’t and remain confident that we are moving in the right direction. This is much easier if you:
Sure, you’re smart. You can figure things out. Maybe you’re the world’s biggest introvert. But if you were hard-boiling an egg for the first time, would you just keep boiling eggs until you got it right, or would you ask someone for the cooking time? A positive, collaborative atmosphere, like we enjoy at Twelve, makes it easy to reach out to colleagues.
I was recently wrestling with a thorny coding question. I posted a query on our internal Slack channel and almost immediately someone responded. We jumped on Skype and worked through the problem together within fifteen minutes. Sure beat ruining a dozen eggs.
4. Know when to stop
It sounds counterintuitive: to excel you need to know when to quit. Most work is like a garden — there is always something more you can do. But tweaking to perfection keeps you from doing other work that adds more value overall.
We understand that when clients ask us, “Can you…?” they often mean, “Should we…?” Almost anything can be done with enough time and resources; but that doesn’t mean it will be worth the cost. Knowing when to stop involves continuously prioritizing changing requirements with the client so they get the most valuable product possible in the time allotted.
In most situations excellence doesn’t have a tangible measure. People know it when they see it. My son is not a fast runner. Yet he went on to be team captain, run marathons and complete the Iron Man. I think that’s excellence. And I see it at Twelve every day.
This is the third post in our culture series led by Chief Culture Officer, Megan Henderson — enjoy!
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