According to Gartner Research, a company specializing in IT business analysis, 80% of critical failures in IT systems are caused by human factors. Tom DeMarco, a well-known IT project management specialist gives more detailed statistics: about 15% of all projects failed. They were canceled, interrupted, postponed, or they resulted in unnecessary products. In the case of large projects, the picture is even worse: 25% of projects, the duration of which ranged from 25 person-years, suffered a failure. In the vast majority of situations, there was no single technological reason for the failure.
The value of the human factor is also confirmed by a joint study by Harvard University, the Carnegie Endowment, and the Stanford University Research Center. According to its results, 85% of success in work depends on social skills (soft skills) and only 15% – on knowledge of the subject area and technologies (hard skills).
What do these numbers tell us? Firstly, most of the problems in IT projects have human nature. Secondly, they show that success in work primarily depends on the ability to interact with people, and not on the knowledge of the subject area. Third, that “soft skills” should be developed no less than “hard” ones. This means that a whole layer of tasks and problems that a specialist planning to grow in IT should be able to cope with lies in the field of human relations.
There is no universal recipe for growth in an IT company. However, most employees face a limited set of common problems that you are likely to face as well. To increase the chances of preparing a solution in advance you need to know your enemy.
The professional path in IT usually begins with the fact that a person comes to the company and starts working. Most likely, they are interested in this job, so they are trying to better understand what they are doing and deepen their knowledge. To do this, the employee begins to visit special forums and conferences, read articles and books. And they do it in their free time, although no one pays them for this. Naturally, sooner or later the work of this person begins to bring more and more significant results. At a certain stage, this becomes noticeable to the management, and the employee is promoted causing certain changes in their environment. For example, if they have advanced to the level of management, they have their own team of subordinates. In addition, this environment will probably affect a client, a boss, and their co-workers.
Each of those people makes up their own opinion about us, which they are probably ready to share with other co-workers. This is normal, and it would seem that it is not so important what people think and say about you at work if you are completely sure that you are coping with the tasks. However, according to research: a person usually shares good impressions with 5-7 people, but bad ones – with 10-12. Thus, uncontrolled information spreads around any employee and it characterizes them ambiguously.
Let’s take a look at the example. Let’s say an employee once sent a report to the client at the wrong time or provided incomplete information. If this is critically important for the client, they, in turn, may well tell their friend about it – another potential client of the company. Suppose the latter knows a lot of good things about the company and chooses their services. But at the same time, they ask another person to lead their project, because they recently received negative feedback about that employee.
The information which spreads like this is likely to make it increasingly difficult to achieve results. At the same time, the employee works the same amount, and maybe more, than before. But their efforts are unlikely to be appreciated because after all, a career depends precisely on the result, and not on the efforts spent on achieving it.
As we can see, obstacles to career growth could be not in the field of knowledge of technology but exclusively in the field of human relationships.
People, who know about the diversity of my professional backgrounds often ask the question: Which company is the best to work for and why? For the first time, it was not easy to answer this question. And I decided to analyze in which organization I was most comfortable working. Having thoroughly delved into my past, I came to the conclusion that there were two such companies at once. This was an unexpected result because some of my acquaintances did not have such companies at all in their second decade of professional life.
Moreover, both of these companies, at first glance, had nothing in common either in the business area or in the form of work organization, and I held completely different positions in them. So they were united by something else. But what? It turned out that in those organizations where the working atmosphere with bosses was the most favorable, it was easier for me to work, and I climbed the career ladder much faster.
But as we have seen earlier, the presence of a direct supervisor is not the only factor. Others are:
This interaction with stakeholders helps individual employee to develop their career. The main problems involve the human factor. Moreover, as we will see below, the boss and the client are the key drivers of your career.
Let’s do a hypothetical experiment: determine at what level on a 10-point scale you assess the quality of relationships with the stakeholders identified earlier (regardless of what you mean by “quality” of the relationship). Is there at least one “10”? If so, congratulations, this is a great result! But I have to upset you: even if you now rate it at the highest score in any of these areas, tomorrow you could be at zero. Why?
To understand this, let’s look at such a self-assessment tool as the competency/mindfulness matrix. Among other things, the matrix shows how an adult learns a skill in a specific area.
Imagine that you have hired a novice specialist with no work experience but is seemingly smart. And the first thing you do is give them the task of writing tests for a small module of your system. “No problem, that’s easy?” – says the novice specialist and leaves. What square of the matrix are they in? Most likely, in square A. The person has no work experience, is not familiar with your system, it is unknown whether they solved such problems before but most likely they have not. At the same time, their words “that’s easy?” suggest that the person does not understand the full depth and complexity of the task. And this state is called A, unconscious incompetence.
Then, the person tries to do something but they do not succeed. Tests check for wrong things or do not provide adequate coverage. What does a novice specialist think at this moment? If they are more persistent than inclined to self-esteem, they would think “I’ll try again.”.
After the fifth failure, the novice specialist begins to suspect that, probably, humanity has already accumulated some knowledge of how tests are written, because the guys from a neighboring project or department succeed quickly and from the first time. At this moment, the person moves to state B, conscious incompetence.
In this state, the very necessary question arises in a person’s head: how can I do it right? And they go to Google search, to a seminar or conference, buy books or consult with more experienced co-workers. And sooner or later (if the person is a learner, of course) they manage to write tests for your module that fully meet the necessary criteria. And that means that they moved into state C, conscious competence.
Do you have a car? Remember the first time you started it. Most likely, you controlled each of your actions and, perhaps, even voiced it out loud until you brought your actions to automation.
When you can do something right, but do it slowly, controlling your every step, this is a state of conscious competence. If you continue to practice the skill, over time you will move into state D. Unconscious competence.
If you, in the middle of the road, ask an experienced why they are using the third gear instead of the second one now, or why they changed lanes – most likely they will not be able to name the reason. And all this is because the driver is at that level of driving skill that they can drive a car without controlling each of their movements.
The same is the case with a specialist who has been working in any field for a long time. They can create beautiful architecture but sometimes cannot explain why it is right to do it this way. This is where the greatest danger lies!
The nuance of this matrix is that it constantly moves clockwise, because the world around us is constantly changing, and it is easy to slide from square D into A. This is especially typical for IT. Why?
Suppose: you are now in square D in any of the areas of activity, technical or communication, but you do not yet know or do not already know why you need to do it this way, i.e. you are unconsciously competent. This means that with any change in this area (a person or circumstances, conditions, technology, etc.) your competence will no longer be enough to solve the problem, and you will again fall into square A.
Now re-evaluate your level of knowledge. What square are you in? Think about what you can do to stay in the stable zone (C↔D) or not leave it if you are still there.
The path to mindful career development begins with understanding where the barriers to growth are (we have already discussed these four areas), and analyzing the current situation using the competency/mindfulness matrix. At the same time, do not forget that you must stay ahead of changes in your area of expertise, so as not to be inside the problem, but to stay above it.
Studying the issue of career advancement, you must not forget that it, first of all, depends on you. If you understand this, then you are really capable of influencing your career – in psychology, this is called an internal locus of control. If you think that everything depends on other people or external circumstances, then this is an external locus of control, which, as a rule, is inherent in immature specialists.
However, the most important character in the promotion process is the boss. More precisely, there are two people: your direct boss and your boss’s boss. And here the concept of “visibility” becomes important – when you are “seen” not only by your direct boss but also by your higher management. The visibility/result matrix allows you to understand how “visible” you are.
Some people are not very visible in the company, but at the same time, they do not give any special results – let’s call them “inconspicuous slobs“. They are in any team, and during crises, they are the first candidates for layoffs since they are quite easy to find.
Some employees produce relatively insignificant results but always remain in the public eye – “braggarts“. They have an advantage over the first ones because they are seen and the bosses know about them. “Braggarts”, of course, are also candidates for layoffs, but only after “inconspicuous slobs.”
Most people working in IT are invisible to their bosses, although they achieve a good result; let’s call them “silent ones“. Interesting that being in this category is not much better than in the previous one. After all, the “silent ones” remain invisible to the leaders who make decisions that determine career growth. Therefore, despite a good result, they can be bypassed when promoted, and even fired in difficult times for the company.
Of course, it is best to produce good results and be visible – let’s call the category of professionals capable of this “nice guys“. Such people are able to consistently perform work at the proper level while promoting themselves and the whole team. They can present their work to the higher management from the right angle.
Let me remind you that “visibility” as a term is visibility not only for your direct boss but also for a boss who occupies a position at a higher level. If you are moving up the corporate ladder, chances are, one day you will be able to take the place of your leader. As a rule, this is possible when your boss moves to another position – then the decision on your promotion will be made by the boss of the next level. Therefore, if you are planning to be a boss, you must be visible to your boss’s boss, and even better, to the company as a whole. You need to determine who exactly influences your career growth and understand how you can be useful to them. And once you are useful, you will immediately become visible.
Now, by analogy with the previous matrix, determine which of the squares of the visibility /result matrix you are in. This will give you an idea of your chances for further career improvements.
It is very important to understand exactly how your boss gets information about you. Of course, if they work nearby, they usually do it personally. But the management can be remote, and you are probably not the only one subordinate to them. The task is in obtaining at least one more opinion to make the assessment more or less objective. More specifically, they need to know the opinion of your client.
Therefore, the client is the second career challenge. As Henry Ford said, the employer does not pay the money, but only distributes it; this is the client who pays the money. Therefore, it is important to know what the client thinks of you, and not only about your joint project, but also about you personally. You can even ask them about it directly, although, as a rule, people resort to more complex feedback mechanisms for this.
If you find out the opinion of the client about you, and it turned out to be positive, it is clear that you need to continue working in the same spirit. What if the feedback was negative and the client is not very satisfied with you?
To solve this problem, you must first notice the following: client satisfaction is directly related to the level of their trust. Another tool in the form of a 2×2 matrix called “trust/transparency” will help to determine the level of trust. It will make it clear at what level of trust with the client you are now and how to increase it in the future:
As we already know, such matrix tools store not only answers to weakly formalized questions but also dangers. This tool is no exception. If something goes wrong at stage D: there is some problem in working with the client, you will again find yourself in square A when the client’s level of trust falls. As you already understood, this is not good, because it leads to unpredictable side effects for your career.
What do I do? The answer is simple, in contrast to the way it is implemented: you have to go all the way A→B→C→D again to get back to a high level of client confidence. That is, if you suddenly let them down, you immediately need to maximize the transparency of your work, regularly reporting the status of the solution to the problem and what steps you are taking to reduce its negative effect. If you can achieve a high level of transparency, even with big problems, you can quickly regain the client’s trust.
If you do not have direct contact with the client, your boss plays the role of the client. Please note that at the same time they do not lose the role of a leader, therefore, when interacting with them, you need to understand in what role they are now, and, depending on this, build your communication strategy.
So, we figured out that the main challenges for your career are your boss and your client. You need to regularly monitor the status of your interaction with them (the matrices discussed above) and make decisions on its correction, if necessary.