By nature I’m somewhat of a minimalist. I’ve always strived to make things as simple as they can be. It always has made sense to me to do so. Why would you want something to be more complicated than it has to be. Usually when things are overly complicated and cumbersome they are unnecessarily costly, time consuming, and breed human error. It hinders transmission (i.e. training new people or replacing experienced people) and most times just doesn’t make any sense yet somehow things get complicated.
In 2012 I was an engineer in the energy sector. I hired on, with no experience aside from my engineering degrees, as an engineer trainee for an upstream oil and gas service company. It was 100% on the job training. After the first 3months or so I was raised to a “night engineer”. About 3 months after that to an “intermediate engineer”. About another 3months later to a “lead engineer”. And after a handful of months after that finally to “senior lead engineer”. Each of these times I was working under a different lead engineer who did things their own way. Everything seemed really complicated as it appeared there where a lot of different aspects and intricacies to all of the roles. So naturally I wondered if it was all necessary. I also began to wonder what the actual goals where. Sure we went through all of the motions and got things done but maybe there was a better more clear way. And what where the metrics to see how well we where doing? I never heard anyone talk about any of this.
Knowing what I know now, I wonder how many millions of dollars where wasted by a lack of performance metrics and no clearly identifiable goals other than done piss off the customer (i.e. oil company). So when it came time for me to take on the senior lead engineer role I decided to figure out what exactly is the goal. What exactly is required to achieve the goal. What exactly do I need to know and what tools do I need. Everything else was waste that I began to eliminate. So in my own style of doing things, I checked into a hotel, cut myself from the outside world, and meticulously and methodically ran through the entire company and this particular role and wrote my own book on it so to speak. I continued to refine the process a few times over the next few months. By the time I was done with all of this, the goals where few, simple, and clearly identified. The process along. with what was needed (i.e. tools, information) was minimal. I believe I narrowed the role down to 4 aspects, each simple. I was actually shocked at how simple the job had become. And how simple it was while achieving the goals every time.
In retrospect I was perhaps the only person in the company to sit down and do this simplification deep dive but I’m glad I did. It made my life easy afterwards. I outperformed other senior lead engineers with much more experience. Work was not chaotic or unnecessarily stressful. I actually enjoyed it. In my experience most people have a tendency to over complicate things (especially young engineers and leaders). It’s my feeling that many people feel that high paying jobs annoy be simple and that they don’t feel as vital if they are not in the thick of chaos and busyness and overly complicated things. In my opinion effective leaders have the ability to turn chaos into order and make what seems complicated and unachievable into simple and clear.
If you find yourself in chaos or complicated work, I urge you to take a step back and simplify. What are the goals? What do you really need to know and make happen. I’m willing to bet there’s some fat to be trimmed which will allow you to be more effective while freeing up more of your time.