On every team there’s always some people that just seem to get “it”. They seem to know what to do almost automatically. They are the clutch players you always call on when the clock is winding down and the pressure is on. They have a certain quality about them that is hard to describe. They just get “it”.
I’ve always struggled with what “it” was. I’ve worked with a lot people that got “it”, but I could never put my finger on “it”. Some are extroverts, and some are introverts. Some are drivers and others were more laid back. Some have years of experience and some are fresh out of school. I could never find a common thread.
So what is “it”?
I believe “it” can be summed up in two characteristics:
- A willingness to take action
The best engineers are always aware of the big picture. They intuitively tie the task they are working on in the present moment to the end goal. They don’t get lost in the weeds. They are always sub-consciously asking themselves, “Is what I’m doing right now moving me/the team towards the end goal?” This means they don’t go off on tangents, or get side-tracked. Like a great chess player, they are thinking 5 moves ahead about the impact of their present actions on the end game.
If they do sense (become aware) that they are starting to go off track, they then do item #2. The style is different person to person, but the result is the same. They immediately stop what they are doing, and do something about it. They don’t go any further. Some take charge, make a decision and run with it. Others aren’t as sure and reach out for help. Both actions are great. What’s common to both, and the important takeaway, is this: they stop and do something to figure out a more effective path forward.
This applies to more than just technical issues and scope, it applies to schedules and budgets. Their inner sub-conscious is constantly scanning all things to watch for gaps between where they are with whatever, and where they should be. If there are any gaps anywhere, they do something about it.
So as a young engineer, what can you do to make sure you’re bringing your A-game? Always know the answers to the following questions:
1. Do I know what the ultimate performance this project is supposed to achieve? If you can’t answer this question, you won’t be able to detect when you are starting to gap as you won’t have a clear measure of where you need to be. Stop what you are doing and re-read the quote, or the functional spec, or whatever project plan document outlines what you are working towards. You should know it cold and be able to state it in one sentence, “I know the project is done when XXXX performance is achieved.”
2. How am I/the team doing to schedule? Or do you see any risks that not everyone is aware of that could hinder the delivery/schedule? If so, do something about it. It’s better to speak up than to be silent.
3. How am I doing/the team doing to budget? If you don’t know, stop what you’re doing and find out. Missing a budget is often a sign of deliverying something beyond what is needed. Sometimes you need to deliver a Chevy, don’t deliver a Cadillac. Othertimes you need a Cadillac, don’t deliver a Chevy. Often this ties back to question #1, knowing your scope.