Andrei Draganescu

@andraganescu

What is work ethic?

You can’t teach someone work ethic. You can’t.

“Work ethic is a belief that hard work and diligence have a moral benefit and an inherent ability, virtue or value to strengthen character”, Wikipedia instructs.

In my past 18 years of professional interaction with people, I found that work ethic is a deeply personal experience which arises from internalizing a few basic perspectives on work.

If you have a big ass ego, like I do, you can attempt to make a list of these perspectives on work, a list of … prerequisite understanding required before one gets to work ethic; so here is my list.

1. Most of the work you do is for other people.

Your work is for other people, not for the money you are paid. And I don’t mean your boss. I mean all the other people who work alongside you.

People pay you so you provide your work for them. So you provide your work for them. That means people depend on your work to be done. They rarely also need your wit or your learned tricks of the trade. But they depend on your work.

When you work the main output of your effort is help. Each of these helping outputs make the push for the overall progress: of everyone else.

Nobody should ask you where you are at. Nobody should make you pay attention to slipping commitments.

Don’t commit if you don’t understand. Don’t commit if you can’t.

When you’re stuck don’t wait it out. It is a lot better to sound stupid than to let everyone down.

2. Work has one goal: to be done.

Started work has no value. Work in progress has no value. Work done has all the value. Almost done means not done.

The idea of “definition of done” should not exist. It exists because we run from the hardship of the finishing details. We all know that from 98% to 100% is where the bulk of the effort is, and, because we’re lazy monkeys, we want to avoid the effort. From zero to 98% we get away with creativity, skill, steal and tricked procrastination.

Done is 100%. It includes finishing touches, filling in the gaps, connecting to the other moving parts and answering your own questions.

Work’s scope, definition, break down structure, estimation, planning and systematization are all just a different types of work, one which also has value only when it’s done. That is why 98% management work brings projects to full stop.

Indifferent of scope, your main tasks are to pull for guidance and push for updates. That is the bulk of any timeline of any project, and “the zone” is not a shelter from doing your part of repeating glue activity.

3. It’s your job that your work works.

That is essentially what makes work, a job: responsibility. You will be dependable if your work is done, you will be appreciated of your work is beyond some mediocre output for cash, but you will be responsible only if you take care that your work works.

Sloppy testing and poor planning cannot be excused by neither lack of expertise nor lack of access. Sloppy testing is not caring about your work.

If you are stuck, than that is your most pressing and immediate problem.

If you realize you have uncovered a cave of unknown, than that is your most pressing and immediate problem.

If you discover your assumptions, or the whole team’s assumptions are off, or simply broken, than that is your most pressing and immediate problem.

In any case you should not defer testing responsibility to managers, QA or less senior peers. Mind that it’s not about the activity of testing, but the responsibility of it.

Yep. Pretty short list, shouldn’t be that hard. These items are far less abstract than work ethic. Thinking and acting upon these things will create you own personal flavor or work ethic, and in the most humanist way possible you will participate to the greater good.

When these perspectives on work are internalized work ethic arises and becomes a second nature, one that has very little to do with the other issues regarding work, which then become distinct items: payment, career, progress, profesional development, culture etc.

Also, other people’s bad work ethic is not an excuse for your bad work ethic. Oh, and one last thing: work ethic === ownership.

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