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2020-05-01

Issue-Driven Makes You Professional


What does define "professional" mean?

  • Salary
  • Years of experience
  • Job grade
  • Skill
  • Number of publications
  • ...

All of the above factors could be true. But, more precisely, I believe the quality of what you deliver determines the degree of our professionalism. On that point, one question comes to my mind — Given the 24 hours and personal constraints, how can I maximize the quality of deliverables? Note that the constraints are derived from a variety of personal conditions associated with money, health, family, education, etc.

Most importantly, the amount of time spent on a problem does NOT always increase the quality of outcomes. I recently watched "Inside Bill's Brain" on Netflix, and Bill repeatedly says Work harder in the video series; he emphasizes the importance of spending more time on a problem, and the approach works surprisingly well because of Bill's exceptionally deep concentration and complex problem-solving skills. However, we're not Bill, and the approach probably doesn't work for most of us due to so many distractions in reality and our limited ability to focus.

By contrast, what we can practically do is optimizing the use of our time. To give an example, I'm exercising the Pomodoro Technique for work lately as I mentioned in "How I'm Working From Home". While the technique clearly guides us in the opposite direction of working hard, I feel I'm currently more productive than I used to be. It should be noticed that productivity is a more accurate metric of work quality than the amount of time.

In addition to proactive time management, strategically planning what to do in the controlled length of time is equally important. Here, a concept of issue-driven would be a key to avoid wasting time on unimportant, non-essential things like a chore. You can learn the concept from the following TED talk:

In short, issue-driven is a strategic mindset & practical methodology for:

  • accurately defining an essential "issue" to solve,
  • consistently showing a high-quality solution to the problems, and
  • being productive in a real sense.

According to the talk, the whole process of the issue-driven approach can be visualized as follows if you have only one week to deal with a complex problem:

issue-driven

Here are the takeaways:

  • Spend plenty of time for defining a key issue. In fact, most of our trivial TODO list items are NOT the issue.
  • Build a high-level but accurate storyline & analysis plan first. Tackle the issue efficiently and cleverly, and do not waste your time by "behaving like a thinker," who actually does nothing in their brain.
  • The overall quality of your work is almost fixed in the first half of the week. Working on your deliverable itself is completely based on the pre-defined issue, storyline, and analysis plan, and what to do afterward is relatively straightforward.

Therefore, the issue-driven approach strictly focuses on the quality of deliverables, and it doesn't care how much effort you made. That is, once we become issue-driven, we're forced to manage our time with a strong focus on an essential issue, and our productivity, which can be measured by the quality of what we deliver, naturally increases. Eventually, high-quality work proves your professionalism.

Being issue-driven is definitely not easy, but there is a strategic way to deliver the best quality of outcomes in a limited time range. That's what I learned from the TED talk and recent work-from-home experience.

  Author: Takuya Kitazawa

Takuya Kitazawa (a.k.a. takuti) is working on machine learning, data science, and product development at Treasure Data.

Opinions are my own.

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