Work Is Work

by Adam Korman

It starts innocently enough… an exec asks: ”Shouldn’t our product do X?

Why, yes! Of course it should.

It’s not a bad idea, and on the surface it doesn’t seem like a heavy lift to build. So the team starts talking about the new feature in our standup meeting (product owner, developers, dev manager, and me – the UX person).

After kicking the idea around for a bit we have a pretty good understanding of the issue and how we might solve it. Then someone on the team asks, ”How hard is that?” You know where this leads. The implication is if it’s easy to build, we should just do it.

Of course we skipped some important questions, like:

  • ”What’s the underlying problem we’re trying to solve?”
  • ”What’s the priority?”
  • ”Does this fit with the theme that we’re working on this quarter?”

Before we knew it, our team had invested 15 minutes × 6 people on this new thing that we might not even do. Meanwhile, we’re already scrambling to finish the work we’ve already committed up to do. Easy isn’t the same as free.

Work Is Work

Luckily we caught ourselves. Some people like to talk about little requests as being death by a thousand paper cuts but I prefer work is work. Why?

  • Equating work with death is not healthy. Of course no one means it literally, but words (especially analogies) are powerful and infectious. If the executive (the person paying you to do your job) hears that you think their requests are like paper cuts that will kill you, they might think you’re not very committed to doing your job.
  • ”Work is work” sounds ridiculous. Saying absurd things aloud can be an effective way to shift the conversation. Work is work is a reminder that even small things take time, have direct costs (design, testing, training, maintenance), and opportunity costs that are often overlooked and undervalued.

So, when you find your team hit with requests out of left field, don’t just ask:

  • ”Can we do this?”
  • ”How hard is it?”
  • ”How long will it take?”

…remind yourselves that work is work.

Small Things Do Matter

It’s not that small things aren’t important – most products are a collection of small experiences, and consistently ignoring small refinements in favor of new features can lead to a disaster of a product. So, this isn’t a call to ignore those small things, but to appropriately value them, because they take work too.

Another Take

Rebecca Gonzalez at Orange Marketing was in the same meeting that inspired this post. Check out what she has to say in her post: ”Ban This Word from Your Vocabulary.”

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