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Mar 27, 2023

Follow Your Shot

The first big project of my technology career was a company-wide rollout of Windows 95. Our tiny five person IT organization (which included desktop support, network admin, and software development) took on a herculean task of adding RAM and installing the new operating system on over 500 employee workstations. After each work day, we stayed around until midnight to process 50 or so computers and then we got to work early the next day to train and support the employees whose computers we upgraded. While we were all exhausted from the previous night, morning support was the most critical part of the project because there were problems on some machines and, even when there weren't, users needed help finding their way around the new OS. Those first few minutes determined whether they loved the new experience or felt screwed by IT.

That's when I learned one of the most important lessons of my career: follow your shot. I usually don't love using sports analogies for work but I think most people have seen (or maybe even been) a tenacious hockey/basketball/soccer/lacrosse... player who scores off their own rebound.

Following your shot means caring about the result more than just completing the task. It means, monitoring a new feature's utilization and fault rates, testing it the field, talking to customers... and making adjustments to redirect a miss. Teams that lack a shot following mentality have less impact because they don't notice missed steps or miscalculations. They just move onto the next task or project. Every team I have joined eventually notices a code branch that was never merged, a feature that was never fully dialed up, or a bug that made a feature inaccessible. Task-oriented teams also have a higher risk of burnout because checking off a task or completing a project is a relief, not a reward -- not like the satisfaction of having a measurable impact.

We often talk about the distinction between being "process oriented" vs. "results driven." Some criticize process orientation for not caring enough about outputs. Results driven cultures can be toxic for overly punishing failure and not appreciating effort. A "follow your shot" culture is a balance between these two extremes. It values the methodical execution of a defined process and also the agility to adapt to get the desired result.

Whatever the task, there is a "follow your shot" behavior that will increase its chance of success: checking the deployment pipeline after a code merge; monitoring dashboards during a dial-up; following up on a customer support case to ensure that the problem was resolved. You just need to ask yourself "how do I follow this shot?"