The Way of the Dragon
Lack of context rears its ugly head time and time again, especially when working in an agency on contract-based work. People often think of “context” in a literary and verbal sense, but it extends to almost every scenario of every day and here’s the secret: there’s a gross lack of it in many cases.
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A dragon hoards its context.
Teams don’t share information well and it’s wrenching the productivity and outcomes directly out of our hands. As a product manager, context has been on my mind a lot lately.
The thing is that the lack of context rears its ugly head time and time again, especially when working in an agency on contract-based work. People often think of the word “context” in a literary and verbal sense, but it extends to almost every scenario of every day and here’s the secret: there’s a gross lack of it in many cases.
It’s human nature, but we like nothing more than to have a juicy piece of information that others don’t - even people on the same team. Then we can sit on said information and let it depreciate while the rest of the team attempts to work in the same direction on the same project without all the available info.
The tapestry of singular pieces of information woven together creates “context.” The more context that a team is armed with increases the chances that they can ask the right questions and make the most impactful decisions with the available information. It can also be considered smaller-scale transparency in the setting of a singular project or objective.
People often feel like context is something to covet - the more I have, the better off I am. We hold onto information like a dragon that sits on its gold and then we expect everyone to move in the same direction at a reasonable pace towards a successful outcome in whatever we’re working on.
It doesn’t work like that.
Here’s what I want you to do: think about your work and any pieces of it that your team members may not know.
- Do people actually know why they’re working on what they’re working on?
- What do your assignments look like?
- Could anyone off of the street read the assignment and understand what is supposed to be done and why? (That’s the goal)
- Does the team you’re working with understand the goals of the feature/project and the benefits of working on it?
- Does everyone share the same set of information regarding the timeline? (This is easy to spot check)
- How is the work going to be compensated to the company?
- What are the plans for when the work begins and when the team expands?
Think about what falls between the cracks that you might be privy to and share those things profusely and often. Why would we not show our team everything from the initial conversations around the project to the discussed and adjusted timelines and budget? It’s powerful to understand if an idea for a new feature or product was born of years of research, a jolt awakening at 3am, or a need experienced by the people proposing the new feature/idea.
How granular can we be with information? Something that people love to say (especially managers) is “high-level,” like “Here is a high-level overview of what we’re [essentially] trying to accomplish.”
As a forthcoming and generous dragon myself, I want the low level. I want the people I’m working with to want the low-level details. This type of detail is not always available right away, but it sets a team up to dig deeper for context, inspiration, and ideas rather than settling with “high-level” anything and working on assumptions.
So my question to you is, what kind of dragon are you? What do you know that the team you are working with doesn’t know and why haven’t you shared that information? What context are you missing? What questions are you forgetting to ask? How can you empower your team with more context and more information?