Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

How to be a Hero at Work

I've been working on a project at work this week that is both more frustrating and more rewarding than most of my projects. There is a software feature we provide that has been causing difficulties for a particular major customer not because there is anything wrong with the feature (or its documentation, which is my area), but because the customer in question is used to another company's product and expects ours to be something it is not. You might say this is a political rather than a technical issue, but a surprising amount of technical documentation addresses political concerns of this nature.

Word came to me that the customer has determined that what they need is a "best practices" whitepaper for this feature. I believe that what they actually need is one specific configuration example for the single procedure in question that differs from what their previous experience requires, but a whitepaper is what they want so a whitepaper they shall receive. I'm not privy to the political details here, but this must be a very important customer indeed. It's not often that a company vice-president contacts me personally to discuss a small project.

I spent the week pulling something together here which I have now made available to interested parties for review. This wasn't the easiest of tasks, for a variety of reasons that would be tedious to recount, but this is my job, after all, and projects that are being encouraged by important customers and company vice-presidents yield fine cooperation from one's co-workers.

Well, what a nice day this is turning out to be. The field engineer who supports this customer and contacts me weekly to inquire about the status of this project is delighted and anxious to bring this draft to the customer. ("Um, no, not quite yet," I said.) The manager who used to be in charge of the project and who is somehow still involved in the politics of this stopped by to say very nice things. ("Did you actually read the draft?" I asked, somewhat surprised. "Yes!," he said triumphantly.) Suddenly, literally for doing no more than my job (later than I originally promised at that, and having ignored some other things in the process), I'm getting embarrassingly positive feedback.

But here's the rub: If I had done all of this as part of my regular documentation work, it would have gone unremarked upon. There would have been a checkmark on a form, indicating that the documentation went out. There would have been no customer feedback, and rightly so because a customer deserves good documentation and should not even notice the documentation one way or the other. But in this case there was a customer crisis, and a big fuss, and a special extra document, and a vice-president, and a senior field engineer, and now I'm the guy who gets big thanks in email and in the company halls.

Similar situations have, in the past, gotten me bonuses and helped earn me promotions. The key is not doing a good job, but doing a good job in the right context. Slow and steady does not win this race.
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