The Art of Work is the name we chose in the late 90's for our consulting practice. We picked that name to capture the blend of magic and diligence which goes into leading creative technical teams to design and deliver great products.
The sections below outline the principal skills that technical leaders build and use as part of their Art of Work.
BOOTSTRAPPING GREAT TEAMWORK
In an evolving marketplace, competitive advantage is shaped by the creative acts of every team in the company.
When you look at a great team, you notice the flow of ideas. The exchange of feedback, the seemingly empathic dispatching of decisions and tasks, the balance between what is and isn’t said, the freedom of conflict and celebration, the unspoken understanding of shared values. You feel recognition of triumphs and failures. You sense explicit learning. You marvel at the openness toward change, challenge, and education.
High performance teams are self-modifying, self-designing, risk-taking, and dynamic.
Does your team act with increasing integrity? Do you have a shared vision? Do you share principles and beliefs? Do you talk about what’s "really" going on in your team? Do you believe the things you say to each other?
The Art of Work is in bootstrapping great teamwork.
CREATING FUNCTIONAL ART
Software is functional, collaborative art. The medium is ideas. The method is teamwork.
Creating software is a sculpting art, where design alternatives have to be skillfully whittled away before implementation can even begin. The essential skill of software management is one of making hard decisions about which soft ideas to bring to life.
This tricky balance is what renders the creation of great software (and great software companies) so difficult, challenging, and attractive. The software can only be as functional, integrated and artistic as the team that created it..
The Art of Work is in creating functional art.
DESIGNING A STRATEGY
Strategy is whatever sets you apart from your competition.
In many organizations there is no strategy manager, no strategic plan, no milestones, no release point. The "strategy" is a vague, misunderstood, half-baked set of hopes on the part of a desperate CEO or department head.
Strategy is itself critical "software", worthy of your greatest design expertise. It has form, features, usability, requirements and performance. Making great strategy takes focused time. Without a strategy, work is an endless series of fires, worries, reactions, and miscommunication.
Does your organization invest deeply in strategy? Do you regularly check out assumptions about your market and business? Has your team become hyper aware of the data coming back from the market?
The Art of Work is in strategically designing a strategy.
Companies, organizations and teams are shaped by day to day, subconscious action.
Grand plans are subtly altered to the point of ineffectiveness. Walls emerge between organizations, departments, and individuals. The original purpose of endeavors is incrementally forgotten, and somehow people find themselves working for the company, rather than the other way around.
In order to properly appreciate your creation (company, organization, team or product), you have to attain perspective. You have to step back. Are you willing to lose your attachment to the current project in order to develop your understanding of project management? Will you give up your investment in the current design, in order to learn how to design? Can you recognize the relative unimportance of the current competitive crisis in order to learn about competition in general?
The Art of Work is in gaining perspective.
KNOWING WHEN AND HOW TO LEAD
Leaders become leaders by leading, not by being given a title. Great leaders become great by only pursuing great ideas.
Great ideas hide behind layers of unarticulated or ignored intuition. In most teams, it is only when the current problems become intolerable that the critical idea finally gets expressed, heard and implemented. Great leaders draw out such ideas, long before the crisis hits.
People who only do what the boss says can only be as good as the boss. It is the job of today’s leaders to create, and be part of, the creative environment, not to tell people what to do, and certainly not to tell them how to do it.
In a creative environment, shared algorithms for decision-making are the ultimate "boss". The creative leader guides the iterative design of these algorithms.
The Art of Work is in knowing when and how to lead.
MEASURING THE TEAM BY ITS RESULTS
Teamwork is revealed in the quality of every product.
A great team is constantly stepping back to appraise its products. Every task is an opportunity to learn. Every deliverable is a minute fractal reflection of the team’s integrity. Successful teams are both amazed by and dissatisfied with their own work. The evolving quality aesthetic of the team incrementally guides its future development.
The effectiveness of a proposed strategy, the appeal of a marketing campaign, the usability of a prototype, the efficiency of a sub-system, or the clarity of an announcement, each of these mirrors the current state of the team.
The Art of Work is in measuring the team by its results.