I know this is straight from The Department of Belaboring The Obvious, but yes, the Big Picture matters. It matters regardless of where you are in the organization, it matters regardless of what your job is, and it matters regardless of what your responsibility is.
Think of this from the perspective of Aligning Priorities. The thing is, we’ve all got our own priorities. In an ideal world, all our priorities align harmoniously, and exist seamlessly within the global priorities of the company, but, well, this is not that world. The reality is that, everybody is one step away from fizzing off in some random direction like some kind of bottle-rocket gone horribly wrong. And that is at the best of times!
Mind you, this is where it helps to not have the big picture — after all, if you don’t know what the corporate goals are (and division goals, etc. etc.), you can’t be blamed for spending the best part of the month optimizing the f**k out of some widget that was already within tolerances, right? Right?
And that’s exactly where the naive approach to dealing with mis-aligned priorities comes in. You can just picture it — legions of micro-managers marching off insisting that everything be done their way, because, after all, they know the priorities, right?
And it’s not just your managers! We’ve all had the #CowboyDeveloper turned Tech Lead, who merrily assigns tasks sans context, all the while insisting “Don’t worry about the big picture — I’ve got that. You just focus on your part”. And, somehow, when things inevitably go wrong, it’s always your fault, never theirs. After all, #CowboyDevelopers can never fail, they can only be failed!
Don’t fall into that trap. If you’re in a position of authority, make sure that the context around decisions is clear to everybody. After all, requirements rarely stand in isolation, and if you don’t know why you’re implementing a specific feature, you run the risk of not actually satisfying the customer (“I gave them what they wanted, but not what they needed…”).
As Deming¹ put it a long long time ago
Suppose that you tell me that my job is to wash this table. You show to me soap, water, and a brush. I still have no idea what the job is. I must know what the table will be used for after I wash it. Why wash it? Will the table be used to set food on? If so, it is clean enough now. If it is to be used for an operating table, I must wash the table several times with scalding water, top, bottom, and legs; also the floor below it and around it.
So yeah, if you expect people to do their best, to solve problems and implement solutions in a way that maximizes productivity — in short, to actually give a s**t — you have to make sure that they are working with context, and within the framework of The Big Picture. Don’t lose sight of that!
- “The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education” by W. Edwards Deming