The musings of a nerd

Bias Towards Actionable

— Feb 04, 2015

Developing a bias towards action will free you to get things done. Day to day this means having a tendency to stop talking about doing something and DO IT. Apply this to how you communicate.

For example, you may have noticed a small typo on an Intranet article. Rather than contacting your Web Master™ and requesting an internal review of apostrophe’s in the contraction “it’s”, FIX IT (or at least open a pull request).

Actionable Communication

In your quest to become an action hero, you will begin to develop the habit of converting input into actionable language. It can be really hard to keep momentum when incoming communication is not already actionable. You receive an email that says:

Good morning, Hank. I was glancing at [project name] this morning while sipping my coffee and looking at animated GIFs (lol checkout this cat [link]), and I noticed that the homepage says “Welcome hime!”. Do you know who “hime” is? Was that the name of the person that rolled off the project last year? I don’t really know, but last night on tv did you see…

Nestled awkwardly between feline animations and drugs (only explanation) is a hint that there is a copy error on the homepage of your product. The email is distracting at best. You’re asking yourself “Why wasn’t this reported in [issue tracker]?” “The error is quite glaring, why not just fix it and open a pull request?” I don’t know, but don’t be that person.

Communicate Actionably

You can’t change the way others communicate, but you can change how you communicate. I charge you to always be mindful of your communication. If you don’t know what you’re trying to say, stop and think about it. If you need to open a discussion, be clear about that and schedule time to talk (ACTION!).

Read emails before you send them. Too long? Rip out the cruft. Does it meander around the point without stating it? Reword and restructure until the action jumps out of the page. A great way to identify inactionable communication is when you struggle with what to do (ACTION?). You can’t delete the email… something should be said or done… When you form communication, think about what you want to see done as a result and say that thing.

If you’re a developer this goes for story writing as well. Nail the criteria for acceptance. Spell it out. You and anyone else on the project should be able to pluck the story 6 months later and understand the requested behavior in no time.

Developing a habit of actionable communication produces results. You’re able to affect the productivity of your team with your communication.

© Jay Hayes