At the interview for my very first job, the librarian at my hometown library recounted what a thorough job I'd done reshelving books as a volunteer, even putting the books that were already on the shelf back in order. She asked if I had anything else to share. "No," I said. I let the librarian speak for me. My work spoke for itself.
It took no coordination, little or no communication, and was quite boring. There were days when my work depended on people returning books, but there was someone else at the desk to handle that part. I could just listen to my iPod and shelve the books. The disappearing books and neatness of the shelves were evidence of my work that anyone could notice at a glance.
I can't say that I've had a job quite like that since. I've had different behind-the-scenes jobs, but they've all been hard to evaluate by a person unfamiliar with them. They were the kinds of jobs you'd notice if they weren't done at all, or done quite poorly. But the difference between a job very well done and a job just, well, done is both large and invisible.
I could put in a lot of work in my current role that no one would ever see. I have the freedom to waste a lot of time on something that isn't important or doesn't matter to anyone else.
But that's not how I want to spend my time. I want to use my time and effort effectively. There's always too much to do. I want to share with my colleagues what I've done and what I've got lined up so they can tell me if my effort is duplicated, wasted, or if I just need a course-correction.
I used to be able to see people walking by or sitting at their desk and show them my work! Remember open offices? That was wild.
When I was a tester on a team, the most obvious place to share information about my work was at standup. I support seven teams now, but I still attend their standups to see deeper into their work and share more details than I would in a larger group.
I've held myself accountable in three other meetings that span across the department. One is for every role. There I share highlights for less than five minutes and add linked details in the shared agenda. I do a similar thing for the bi-weekly sync of all the engineering leads. I also host a meeting every few weeks with the engineering and product managers that's all about my work. They're the ones who need to see the outcomes and impact, so it's worth investing a bit of time to make sure I'm focusing on the right things for them.
I've also got a 1-on-1 with my manager. I try to save particularly hairy or tense situations for this meeting. Not everyone needs to know about drama between people or teams as it's unfolding or being resolved! But I've only got 5-10 minutes or so for that every two weeks. Half of our 1-on-1 is follow-ups on what I said or my boss sharing information with me from around the company.
In quick updates, I share why I picked up the work, who it serves, and what problem it solves. I've seen so many sprint demos that share the "what" but not the "who" or the "why" that I try to include all three pieces in my stories.
In the meeting focused on my role, I let the conversation be freer. We dig into more of the why's and "is this valuable?"'s of what I'm up to.