About stones in one's shoe - 20/10/2013, 19:40

For almost 2 years I worked at a large company as a consultant in IT.

When I arrived, my tasks weren't quite defined, I was simply one more interaction designer who was good at programming, in a closely knit team of interaction designers and other UX experts. As a "warm-up" task I was assigned to do a small programme that eased some of the team's most repetitive tasks. Initially this was VB code within one of the biggest and most important documents that the team administered, but the person who originally assigned me this task instantly recognised how much this could help not only our team, but also other departments.
He instructed me to implement it instead as a proper, stand alone programme, proposed some extra features, and once it was done, heavily promoted it to the other departments.

This eventually turned out to be my single most important contribution to the company, earning me a lot of appreciation from a lot of colleagues in other departments. I would see people discussing proposals for new things with images generated by it. It even found its ways to company sites in other countries and I even received emails with praise about it. I'm of course super happy that it was such a success!

However, I must say it was something that took me entirely by surprise:
Why did it become such a big thing? The programme was by no means the most difficult or advanced code I'd ever written (especially in the beginning, though I must say in the end it had QUITE a lot of features in it and it wasn't that simple to expand and maintain).

What made this programme special, was that it took a task that was extremely tedious, repetitive and complicated for a human to perform, and presented the result within a fraction of a second.

The way I see it, the company was like a runner in a marathon, who has this huge pressure to get to the finish line, and has this annoying stone inside its shoe. What I did was, in a way, removing this stone which was known by the runner, but which the runner unfortunately never had time to deal with.
In many cases what I did for the company was that: removing stones found by my colleagues or by me. I think the company learned a valuable lesson that sounds obvious, but in the pressure of getting to the goal usually is ignored: sometimes it's good to stop for a moment and check which processes can be optimised, which annoyances can be removed.

When I was working at the company, I devoted a fraction of the time in all the projects precisely to do that, and I think everyone should.
Sometimes it turns out that the annoyance is even shared by many people - a couple of times people would pass by and ask, "What's that programme on your screen doing?"
When I told them, they would sometimes answer "Oh! You know, this could help me a lot as well"
So I'd give them the programme, and hopefully they wouldn't be nagged by the problem any longer.

(In a healthy organisation like the one I was working in, sooner or later the favour is returned.)


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