One of the most effective ways to show up as a badass is to be known as someone who crushes every assignment.
That might sound a little crazy. But, I assure you it is possible.
It’s not all about working hard. It’s about working smart.
Working smart starts with one key principle: Don’t Make Assumptions. Ever.
Assumptions in the workplace can be dangerous things. Making incorrect ones can cause you to under-deliver or show up with a finished product that completely misses the mark.
Don’t take any assignment at face value. Always make sure you understand all aspects of the project.
How can you make sure you have all the information you need? I’ll break it down for you. It all starts with the Basic Five W’s.
The five W’s are the Who, What, Where, When and Why:
Who is the audience for your assignment? Who are you expected to work with?
- Will the final deliverable be shared internally or externally?
- How widely will it be shared? With just your boss? The department? The company?
- What teammates or departments are you expected to partner with?
- Are there stakeholders who should weigh in before your delivery date? Who are they?
What is the specific deliverable?
- Do you have a firm understanding of all the parts you are expected to include?
- Are you on the hook for a preliminary draft or a cleaned-up final version?
- Are there elements of the assignment that must be delivered by other parties? What are they and what state will the pieces be in?
- Which format are you expected to use?
Where will the deliverable be used?
- Is your assignment a piece of a larger project? Is it a stand-alone item?
- Where will your work be shared? Via email? In a small meeting? In a large presentation?
- What is the context that your work will be framed with?
When is your assignment due?
- Do you have a clear deadline?
- Do you have an exact time to hit as part of the deadline? The world moves fast. There is a big difference between start-of-business and end-of-day.
- Are there interim milestones you are expected to hit before the final due date? For example, if you are creating a report for your boss, do they want to see an in-progress draft? Is so, when?
Why are you being asked to take on this assignment?
- Why is this assignment important? Understand how it connects to a bigger picture.
- Why are you being asked to take it on? Do you have a clear grasp on how you connect to the bigger picture?
If anything about an assignment is unclear, you absolutely have to ask questions. Sometimes it feels awkward, I know. But, it will be far more awkward if you show up with an assignment that misses the mark.
Your follow-up questions need to be directed to the correct source. It may feel easier to poke your head over the cubicle and ask the person next to you a question. But do they really know the correct answer? Or did they make an assumption? Others can unwittingly set you up for a fall. Get answers from the right stakeholders.
This all may sound like common sense. However, it’s sometimes easy to overlook the basics. You get really busy; you’re juggling ten different projects; you have to leave the office today by five p.m. to get to a doctor’s appointment… and just this time you think that it’s easier to make assumptions then track down requirements. Next thing you know, you made one small incorrect assumption, and now you have the unintended consequence of a disappointed boss and maybe even a public failure.
Don’t get burned by a bad assumption.
Make sure you understand your assignment. Every single time.
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