A few weeks ago I met a couple of my business partners in a moderately upscale restaurant in the Washington, DC area. It was not my typical kind of place – I’m more of a casual dining guy – but I did enjoy the experience and the atmosphere. There wasn’t any one particular thing that made the experience a positive one; the food was pretty good, the service was above average, and the environment was seemingly flawless.
Polishing the Silverware
We were dining a little before the dinner rush, so the restaurant staff were in prep mode for the influx of people that would be arriving shortly. As we ate I watched them prepping, and the thing that really stood out to me was that they wrapped up their preparations by converging on the dining area to polish the silverware and the glassware by hand. A staff member picked up each piece, polished it with a cloth, and held it up to the light to check for any spots. I observed as a few pieces of silver were replaced, presumably for not meeting the standard required for such a restaurant. The process took the staff members away from their primary duties for a brief time, but their efforts helped to remove any potential blemishes from the environment.
As I watched this ritual, I couldn’t help but draw a parallel between polishing silverware and polishing the delivery of technical assets. All of us who work in technical roles – whether consultants, corporate employees, or freelancing contractors – are responsible for delivering a product or service to our clients, employers, or colleagues. For every asset we deliver, there are core attributes that are not negotiable (critical functionality, performance expectations, security standards, etc.), and then there is the polish. Even when the core requirements are met, if the audience sees “spots” on that deliverable – even if the blemishes don’t impact the functionality – it can impact their perception of the quality of the whole.
Perception matters. Perception can be the determining factor between all-in acceptance of a deliverable and ambivalence about it. Perception might be the difference between a client singing your praises to her peers, or remaining silent. Those spots that you neglect to polish could make an otherwise successful year appear less so, even if you exceed all of your goals.
As technical professionals, what is our polish? The answer will be as varied as the deliverables we produce. It might be spending the extra time to create super-shiny documentation, knowing that few people will ever read it. It might mean running your copy past a grammar fanatic to make sure that your website has no errors in language. In some cases, it means spending two hours creating a simple Reporting Services report to allow users to view the ETL logs for your data warehouse solution. It might be as simple as using a standard naming convention within code. Often, the polish involves soft skills, including personally walking through the details of a new system with a user who is unlikely to take the initiative to learn on his own.
Polishing the silverware might seem like a silly exercise. But details shape perception, and perception matters – a lot. Take the time to do it.