What is Your Context?

I’d had it with the robo calls on our home line. You know you have a robo call when you pick up the phone, there’s a pause, and a disembodied voice starts to sell you something. Irritating!

I discovered a service that promises to learn and end the robo calls. I signed up and got stuck. I had to log into my phone provider’s account and change a setting. Mark manages our landline account. I sent him an email with the link to the new service, told him where I was stuck and to please continue. I thought it was clear.

He arrived at my office several minutes later. “What are you talking about?? I have no idea what you mean. Why are you telling me to do this? You gave me the wrong password for our landline account.”

Well. I had not provided enough context. I do this, sometimes. I have a little reminder on my checklist for articles and talks: “Set the context.” I did not remember to do that in my email. We spoke, we laughed, and he explained what I needed to do. I finished, and I have not had robo calls since then. Success!

Each of has a context for our situation.

When you say to me, “My situation is different,” you are correct. Your context is different.

Your life is different from mine. That’s why I hesitate to say anything like this, “You must eat this way,” or “You must exercise this way.” Low carbing and keto work for me. They might not work for you. My walking, stretching and weight training work for me. You might prefer something else. (One thing I do say is this: a good eating plan is one you will stick to, that provides you energy. A good exercise plan is one you will stick to and practice.)

At work, we have different people on our projects, different code bases, and different management. Even if we work in the same domain, we have different contexts. We tell stories because that’s a way to share our context.

I have a problem with software “best practices.” I find many practices to be useful. In software, some practices are:

  • Some form of multiple eyes on the code.
  • Whatever allows you to get to continuous integration.
  • Showing progress often.

You’ll notice I didn’t say code review or pairing—although those are two good ways to get multiple eyes on the code. I didn’t say work in small chunks of features, although that allows you to get to continuous integration. I didn’t say demos, although that allows you to show progress often. I don’t care so much about how you achieve these results. I care that a team achieves them. These practices will provide you a better project context, in my experience.

I can’t call them best practices because your team context is different from mine. I can’t tell what will work in your context.

Understand your context. Then, when people ask me, “What the heck did you mean???” I am pretty sure I have not set the context. That might be true for you, too.

That’s the question this week: What’s your context?

2 thoughts on “What is Your Context?

  1. PHIL gadzinski

    Nice write up. You know what they say about best practice – it’s a concept that stifles creativity and innovation !

    1. johanna Post author

      Phil, hahaha. I’m not sure I ever heard that about best practice, and it fits!

      I am surprised by the number of people who want a recipe for work, instead of asking, “What results do you want?” and then creating their own recipes.

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