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Finding Invisible Levers

Published 8/10/2016

In today's episode, we talk about the concept of "invisible levers", and how you can use the concept to help relieve tension in your projects.

Today's episode is sponsored by RefactorU, the 10-week JavaScript training bootcamp focused on developers dedicated to reinventing themselves. You can get 20% off of tuition by mentioning Developer Tea today! Head over to spec.fm/refactor to get started!

Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone, I'm Malcolm T. Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and today we're going to be talking about how to find your invisible levers. Today's episode is sponsored by Refactor U, an immersive 10 week JavaScript training boot camp. We will talk more about what Refactor U is offering Developer Tealisteners specifically later on in today's episode. But first, I want to jump into this concept of the invisible lever. This is coming from my own personal experience that have been many times where this particular exercise has been enlightening and ultimately it changed the dynamic of the project I was working on permanently. As we go through our decision making processes, we take in information about our situation and we make relatively large assumptions about our situation. When we are working towards a goal, it's easy to lose sight of the purpose of our decisions. For example, we often assume metrics about our audience of users. Maybe we use general statistics that we can find with an easy Google search. We use those statistics to figure out the devices our audiences are probably going to be using. Or maybe we create focus groups and we ask them, you know, what are their particular desires or their needs. Maybe we use our gut. But ultimately, we end up making assumptions about that information that we gather. We make assumptions about how it applies to our projects. Another example, we often make assumptions about our client's perspective on their resources that they're willing to spend. Sometimes they have told us a budget and we assume that the budget is fixed and then it won't ever change and that we are locked into that budget. Or perhaps the same thing can be said of the timeline or of the features that the client is wanting us to build. And often these assumptions are pretty much unavoidable. I would say most of the time in fact, they are unavoidable. And sometimes we don't even realize we are making these types of assumptions. These are some of the blanks our brains are naturally built to fill in without us processing that information intentionally so that we don't have to over engineer and over analyze. We can spend our time and spend our energy ultimately thinking about more important problems. But sometimes these assumptions need strategic and surgical exploration. Sometimes we have to explore assumptions and determine which ones are costing us more than they are helping us. Take that away with you today. Sometimes we have to explore our assumptions and determine which ones are costing us more than they are helping us. After this quick sponsor break, I'm going to come back and talk about the invisible levers and how you can use them to your advantage as a developer. Today's episode is sponsored by RefactorU. Are you learning to code online but hitting brick wall? RefactorU is an immersive full stack JavaScript bootcamp that's dedicated to the learning needs of aspiring web developers looking to reinvent themselves. It's an immersive 10 week JavaScript training bootcamp. You learn more in 10 weeks than you will maybe in any other 10 weeks span in your life before this. 10 weeks of intensive training. They have a dedicated career services team. Their goal is to get you into this industry. RefactorU is GI Bill approved and they're based in the booming tech city of Boulder, Colorado. They even have diversity scholarships that are available for each cohort that goes through the school and for Developer Tealisteners. There's a 20% tuition discount specifically for you if you mentioned Developer Tea. Go and sign up, go to spec.fm slash refactor to learn more about the world class peers and instructors that you'll be working with at RefactorU. That's spec.fm slash refactor. Don't forget to mention Developer Teato get 20% off of your tuition. Thank you so much to RefactorU for sponsoring Developer Tea. In the beginning of this episode we started talking about the assumptions that we make about our circumstances. We take for granted that we are working with some set of circumstances and often we may even assume that those circumstances are totally iron structures that they can't be changed at all. But it's important for us to take a step back and determine what specific circumstances are limiting us more than they help us. What is more costly than beneficial? We said previously that these assumptions help us remove some of the trivial parts of our work. But you may be missing out on some powerful insights if you don't explore these circumstances a little bit more in depth and be willing to be surgical. In other words, be willing to change things that otherwise would remain the same had you not come in and change them. So I'm going to give you two steps for finding these invisible levers in your projects, in your work situations so that you can use them to your advantage and know where the best places are to put your energy to change those circumstances. So number one, this is a really common starting point for a lot of business exercises and for mental exercises. And that is quite simply determined the pain points. This is absolutely a common exercise. But it's an incredibly important one. The difference here with this method is that we aren't going to directly address these pain points. We are going to try to relieve them by doing something directly to them. The most obvious way to do this is to look for where money seems to be never sufficient. Look for where we're pouring a lot of money or a lot of time or a lot of resources into this particular area and it doesn't seem to be getting better. Another technique is to look for where there's tension or maybe personal drama amongst your team members. If you've lost multiple team members because of a particular aspect, a particular characteristic of your team, those are ways to identify these pain points. It's number one, determine your pain points. And number two, determine what would happen if you removed the limits of key circumstances that are unrelated to those pain points. For example, what would happen if the budget was 10 times more than it is today? How would that change the pain point? Let's say for example that you're having a hard time with quality assurance with your team. Some of the team is delivering high quality code other parts of the team are not and there's a little bit of a consistency issue. What would happen to that quality assurance problem if the budget was 10 times more than it is today? Would it change the quality of the code or not? It's the traditional way of handling quality assurance issues is to directly discuss quality assurance at its core level. Go and talk to the people who are not doing their job correctly. This is a traditional managerial way of handling problems like this. But what if you were able to work with a different team member or maybe a different project manager? How would things change if you can make more decisions on the project? This way of thinking changes the way you solve problems. It looks for the root cause rather than looking at the symptom. I want you to think about that and really think about the problems that you're facing in your projects and in your organizations. Think about how you typically solve those problems. Do you typically treat the symptoms of the problems or do you try to find the root underlying cause for those problems so that you can prevent future iterations of the same problem? And ultimately what we're looking for here is those particular pieces of your circumstances that when they are changed, they lift those pain points. The things you identify in step two, for example, the budget concept, the thing that we assumed is fixed, that assumption that we identified in step two, these are your invisible levers. They transfer pressure into an area that may not be easily addressed directly. If you're stressed, you may think the best way to handle it is to take a vacation or start meditating to start handling the stress directly to start counteracting the stress. By doing this, you're adding extra energy to try to address the symptom of your problem. If your team is struggling to meet deadlines, it may be the immediate reaction to try to figure out how to push them to work harder or work later. But it may be significantly more effective to shift the team dynamic, or maybe they need new equipment. It could even be something as simple as changing the temperature of the air in the office. Now this seems kind of trivial and kind of silly. But when you start thinking about the many factors that you take for granted surrounding particular situation and start changing them, all you're doing is mental gymnastics at that point. You're starting to imagine what the world would be like if those particular restrictions were lifted. If those particular variables were changed to an extreme extent. If you had no restrictions on your budget, if you had no restrictions on your time, or if you could work with any client in the world, those are the types of things you need to be asking. That's where you find your invisible levers. Now the point of this exercise is not to be overly idealistic. While I believe it's good to have high levels of ambition, you also need to be able to solve your problems in practical ways. The point of the exercise is not to paint an unrealistic picture of the world that you should be striving after. Instead it's to realize, to dig up and figure out what are the particular things that are causing this problem, or perhaps that are exacerbating this problem. Things that if they were removed, if that particular barrier were removed entirely, the problem would not exist. And then instead of saying, okay, we're going to get 10 times the budget, perhaps you seek a little bit extra money, maybe you do one and a half, or two times the budget. I want for you to think about the invisible levers that may be intensifying and exacerbating the pain points on your projects and in your teams. And then imagine what the situation would be like if the assumed limits and the circumstances were changed. Instead of trying to brute force fix your problems and focusing on the symptoms, take a deeper look, take a surgical look, and determine the root cause. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. Thank you once again, of course to our fantastic sponsor Refactor U, the 10-week intensive JavaScript training boot camp, Out in Boulder, Colorado. Remember they are GI Bill approved. And if you mention Developer Tea, you get 20% off tuition. Thank you so much again to Refactor U. You can re-notes for today's episode and listen to every other episode of Developer Teaat spec.fm. And while you're there, make sure you go and check out the other fantastic podcasts on spec. We are here to help designers and developers just like you level up in your careers. Thank you so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.