July 19, 2017 • 2 min read
A coworker recently taught me a client management technique that I love.
When a stakeholder asks for a change to the software we’re developing, my standard response is, roughly: “Sure thing.”
Then later: “I’m working on that issue we discussed now.”
And finally: “It’s done.”
Here’s an alternate approach. Skip the first two conversations and go straight to the third. So, if I receive a message asking for a change, I do it as soon as I can, and my first and only response to the client is: “It’s done.”
It’s a variation on the adage “Underpromise; overdeliver.” In this case, my silence promises nothing, the most under- of underpromises. And I deliver in a moment when stakeholders have pushed the problem out of their minds. That is more than they expect.
A literary touchstone is A Message to Garcia, a short story by Elbert Hubbard. Hubbard tells the tale of Lieutenant Andrew Rowan, who was tasked to deliver a secret message to General Calixto García in Cuba just prior to the Spanish–American War. Instead of engaging in a conversation about how he might accomplish this herculean task, he disappears and single-handedly gets it done. Writing software might have lower stakes, but this method of concise communication still inspires me.
It is not book-learning young men need, nor instruction about this or that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies; do the thing - “carry a message to Garcia!”
If you can, skip the conversation and just do it.
A caveat: this technique only works when your team is asynchronous, and your stakeholders are patient. You have to get back to them in a timely manner; minutes or hours not days. A certain breed of micromanagement will never accept the delay. But more folks than you might think can be persuaded to appreciate the tradeoff. Especially if what they hear most often is “it’s done.”
This technique creates a shorter interaction with less back-and-forth. And it establishes you as the type of programmer who gets things done.
Blog of Jake Worth, software engineer in Maine.