Nov 22nd, 2023

Business Insights

Trading Comfort for Efficiency

  Written by: Max Hoaglund, Senior Technology Lead

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We can think of transparency as a value that a person or organization displays through certain actions in their work and messaging. We like transparency at Clientek, and we insist that our activities carry it- but it’s worth spending the time to expand on why we like it, how we do it, and how we benefit from making it a big part of our process and identity.

Transparency has to do with two other, more concrete factors present in every meeting, work activity, and initiative. Those factors are comfort and efficiency. The degree and quality of transparency is going to impact both of those factors directly, and we see this in our role as a technology partner with our customers and in our internal dynamics as a technology company. In every interaction we enter as individuals or as an organization, we must be devoted to the activity of trading our comfort for the efficiency benefits we get from being transparent. That activity takes many forms, but here are a few key ones.

Airing concerns: So, what does transparency have to do with comfort in the first place? As a team lead or systems architect, I might experience varying levels of stress throughout a project. That stress can arise from crises that are outside of my control or interpersonal disagreements, but it can also come from knowing I don’t have a complete answer to an ask or issue I’m responsible for. I might be unsure what question to even ask! I can either wait for the right person to be in the right meeting to magically resolve the concern I’m struggling with, or I can proactively broadcast the vague feeling I have about the incompleteness of my rationale for the decision-making I need to do. Once I invoke transparency and share those concerns with colleagues, even though I’ll certainly have to feel the sting of revealing a list of thoughts and data that I “don’t have”, I’ll gain the efficiency of other brains joining me in clearing up the situation. We call that “escalation” internally, and it’s something we try to teach. It’s usually a good way to have necessary conversations sooner, and it motivates others to help look for the answer.

Showing your work: To look at an opposite scenario, there are transparent and non-transparent ways of communicating complete ideas that one has a confident rationale for. It might be comfortable and satisfying to my ego to insist on the automatic primacy of my exquisitely-documented plan for a solution, and to expect that the plan will be acted upon as soon as I’m done talking through it with my audience- but that disempowers the audience. Transparency here would mean showing my work- taking the extra time and humility to establish the chain of events, thoughts, and conversations that lead to the present conclusion, opening it to countless opportunities for others to ask questions I haven’t thought about yet and find omissions. Here I’m giving up some of the triumphant energy of announcing the arrival of the coolest plan ever in exchange for the brilliant efficiency of giving others the scaffolding to reconstruct my rationale quickly and independently for themselves to see if it passes muster. That saves everybody time and lets me harvest better feedback. The tradeoff is worth it.

Requests with motivations: We can explore the same tradeoff with motivations. Making sure other people understand what motivates you (right now in your pursuit of your current action, or in general as a person) helps them act effectively on your behalf, or argue with you better, or be assured of how you’re going to act in the future. Sharing your motivation can range from explaining in detail why you need a certain port opened on a certain firewall, to telling a co-worker about why exactly you do the job you’re doing. What’s at stake here is the quality of support you get from your colleagues and clients- and the discomfort you must tolerate is knowing that you might get pushback on your firewall rule from someone with a strong NetSec background (causing you to spend time rethinking your planned activity), or maybe realizing that your colleague doesn’t identify with what motivates you. When we can create the social context for our customers to do this with us, it leads to great relationships and effective problem-solving.

It’s good to see transparency as a necessary risk. You can try to get by without it, clutching a blanket of comfort- but you’ll miss out on opportunities that radically increase the quality and speed of software projects.