Today I realized that my daily job is actually performing a series of quests.
It always starts with a simple single request. "enter 5 items in a system". What follows is always the same… after some research 4 items can be entered but the 5th is a problem. To gain information on the 5th item however I need to install a tool on my laptop So I have to search quickly for a tool via Google. This takes some time trying out tools. When I find the tool it seems that some other Windows related problem needs to solved first. For this I need some help from a forum. And there I find I need information from someone I know. This person however has an telephone number I lost and for that I need to lookup in my backups. After I finally reach him he sends me a PDF with some more information, when I read it, I realize I need to code some small script to succeed, for this I have to find out how to code the script, I have this information somewhere but for that I need to go on the Intranet and find somewhere a dial connection. Right at that point somehow I can not open my usual dialer…etc…
All in all a simple task can take hours and hours just because the quest needs to be ended completely before my stamina gets increased and usually you meet new persons during the quest. The good thing is that my experience points rise during the quest so in general the more experience on a wide range of subjects, the more quickly I can end a quest (and likewise future quests).
Most of the times, a task is planned within a set of tasks and each one has a certain deadline and often they have dependencies (for most of them I start on another task because the previously unknown quest items require you to wait for someone or something). So in no time my mind is filled with unresolved threads of open quest items.
When making a planning you usually take in account a bit of unplanned quests that will follow as a result from a planned tasks. The most difficult thing however is defending the amount of time for a planned task. Sometimes a planned task may seem to take little time so when someone is paying you for your task or is calculating hours against a strict deadline there is only one solution: make your planned tasks contain more hours than actually needed e.g. always double or triple the time it actually takes. And still, of course, that leaves some remaining problems: an unplanned quest is really an unplanned quest. It could really be so that a certain quest takes 5 times as long as you would think it would take since uhm… it is an unplanned task. Hopefully some other planned tasks will take less time.
I could probably elaborate on this in a book format, but there some interesting other things to add:
- if you have to describe afterwards what you did, you can only name the set of tasks because only a few people are interested in learning about your complete set of quests (and most of the times I even forgot why). In some cases it feels really bad that certain task took very long without being able to explain why. Maybe we need a web site for you stories.
- if you have to plan tasks for a team or even for persons whom you have never met it is absolutely even more difficult because you don’t know their ability to solve quests that are not depending on the skills needed for solving a planned task.
- in formal organizations a tiny weeny unplanned quest item can take months to go through a chain of procedures while in informal organizations solving quests can go quickly and are sometimes even pretty cool to do.
- very often the hidden big monster is only discovered at the end of a quest and can cost you your evening or even night
- more experience means the same unplanned quests but you can go through them faster (if you have more experience you will however add more planned tasks).
- having a good network means you can go through quests faster
- knowing everything about the things you are daily doing can make you solve quests faster
(I’m not trying to say "how do I make a planning / estimation". We all have Google, have had our courses and experience on this and probably some of you have their own departments which are 100% dedicated on "estimations" purely. You can probably read thousands and thousands of books on this or even call someone in to help you with your estimations).
What I’m trying to say is: these quests are very real for many people, but I’m not 100% sure that the skills someone needs to solve these quests are actually taught in schools. It means being pro-active, smart, interactive, people-skills, creativity and probably a lot of stubbornness too. Maybe this is the essence of work-experience. But there is one more thing:
The planned tasks are those things that you have learned in school, course or have been trained to to do so in your job and of which I assume you know everything. The unplanned quests however are things you have never learned or seen before. It could involve anything. You could be specialist A and suddenly need to write a piece of Z++ Optimizing code or make a financial planning or find a department in unknown company X. Depending on your experience and the type of person you are, you could stop (and complain) or just "do it". Becoming such a person is, I think, part of gaining this work-experience and possibly a good project manager or coach could help you just push yourself in this direction.
But there is one next step a good project manager or coach can not help you with:
If you are in an environment where there are many people all going through their daily quests, all in different projects or departments or experience, someone with superb work experience has the keen eye to see where each of these persons are in their quests. He or she is able to take part in other persons’s quests to bring them to a good ending while keeping an eye on his or hers own planning. Maybe you have met them in your work are you are such a person.
This is I think, depending on many factors some personal and some not. But when you have become part of the elite group of these kind of persons who are knights in their field then you grasped the concept completely.