What Shape are You?

Each of us, at work, cover an area in “job-space”. Within a project there are a set of tasks, or jobs, that need to be done, and these tasks make up an area in job-space. Individual members of a team cover areas of that space, taking responsibility for different tasks. An individual’s area falls within their project, and the full scope of the tasks to be done for that project fall into the job-space of a larger business unit.

Individual contributors have quite regular shaped areas in job-space. Managers or team leads might have their own distinct area, but likely also help to fill in the gaps between team-members to make sure that everyone is on track and aligned. For a project to be finished, the whole of the project area in job-space needs to be filled in.

As our career develops, we learn to occupy a variety of shapes. Our shape might grow in size as we gain responsibilities, and limbs might grow off the shape as we learn unique skills. We might find, over time, that we enjoy taking a certain shape, doing a certain set of jobs, but might not enjoy others.

I find this to be a very useful analogy. I stumbled across it earlier this week, and while the original article meant for the analogy to be used to understand how important the little bits of work are, I find an additional benefit to this analogy – understanding which areas in job-space you border.

First is the usefulness of this analogy when understanding how important little tasks like formatting, code commenting, and creating documentation are. These little tasks, while they might not explicitly move a project forward, are required for the project to be considered complete. What makes these tasks so essential for each individual is the fact that these tasks lie at the center of each person’s job-space, impossible for other people to fill in. If you have tried to comment someone else’s code or create documentation for someone else’s project you’ll understand how difficult it is to access an area within someone else’s job-space.

This was an idea I struggled with at my first job. I was busying myself with project work, creating new prototypes and solving problems, but I wasn’t always taking the time to document the process and communicate findings to stakeholders, missing out on tasks central to my area.

Second, this analogy makes it more clear who you should be in constant communication with. When you think about the area that you occupy, you can also think about the adjacent areas. Areas can be adjacent to you if the kind of work is similar, but on different projects, or if the work is for the same project, or even if you are working on different projects under the same team lead. All of these adjacencies are people that can be helpful to know, whether they can offer coaching or advice, or whether it means the fewer formal meetings are needed to ensure that a project is on track.

So, when you think about the work you need to do, think about how it fits into job-space. Why are you doing this work, and why can’t anyone else do it? How can you expand the area you occupy? And what kind of shape do you enjoy being?

Callum Macdonald, January 2021

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