Tip # 4: Edits

Sometimes you can make a great indirect impact by investing little effort. These might feel not very valuable, and even useless for performance review. However, those things could be the most valuable things you do (think averting crises before they happen, or steering projects towards much better outcomes) - just need to accumulate critical mass to show it.

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One type of impact that is especially easy to miss is making a minor adjustment to the solution approach, project plan, or product strategy that puts it “back on track” and saves days or weeks of fruitless efforts down the line. Think of pulling the lever and sending a train to a safe empty railway instead of a concrete wall it headed to - it is not much of an effort, but you just averted a complete trainwreck. These course corrections are sometimes (often?) called “edits”1.

An edit could be a commit you quickly hack together to serve as an example, a comment on PRD/design doc, or even something as fleeting as a conversation with someone and changing how they planned to solve the problem. These save a lot of time and effort for other people (indirect impact), cost you little, and (unfortunately) leave little track record and attribution.

However, you made that impact happen. It might not be you who made most of the effort, or even the “hardest part”, but without you noticing the problem/opportunity and drawing attention to it, nothing would have happened. So you do deserve credit for it.

The thing is, unless you make some active efforts to claim that credit, chances are high that it will be completely forgotten and missed from your performance evaluation, peer feedback, etc. Unfortunately, even the best and most grateful and well-intended of us might not remember that they were “saved” a few months ago, and maybe not even realize something happened. So, figuratively speaking, to see your photo in the local newspaper next to a “This guy saved my life” story, you have to find a reporter and give them the interview yourself :)

Finally, these things tend to accumulate value - if you have done 1 or 2 of them, it is probably not a big deal. If you have done 10-15 of them over a year, this means you consistently generate a big indirect impact.


How and where to make edits:

  • some venues provide a lot of opportunities to make edits - for example, design or incident reviews - consider participating in them, and introducing these processes if not already present in your team/org/company.
  • Many edits come from code reviews - e.g. catching performance regressions (and other “critical” issues), preventing data quality problems2.
  • Project briefs (aka PRDs) are a good place to make high-leverage small changes - e.g. adjusting goals/no-goals, calling out critical dependencies, proposing exploration/prototyping phase to address uncertainties, framing hypothesis and experiments to verify them, influencing success criteria and target goals, etc.
  • Planning and roadmapping - calling out over-/under-estimations, rearranging projects to ensure the best talent and timeline fit, etc.

How to make edits visible and valued:

  • I’ll risk sounding like a broken record, but… write them down when you make them.
  • Let your manager/peers/other significant partners know what you did, and what the impact was (or will be) - this could help build context and improve visibility into your work.
  • Take some steps to know your actual impact. For example:
    • Set a reminder for yourself to check on the situation and see where your interference took it.
    • Almost always there is someone who would do things differently because of your involvement - ask them to keep you in the loop and update you on the outcome.
  1. likely originated from the amazing note “Work on What Matters” from the “Staff Engineer” book and website↩︎

  2. for example, checking the potential values of the “product ID” field before they are stored in the data warehouse/analytical DB, and finding out product SKUs are sent from some locations by mistake. ↩︎

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