I just finished reading a great book called Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande.  In this book, Gawande a medical doctor with a surgery specialty describes examples of professionals in his field striving for excellence in the practice of medicine.  The book is organized into three main parts each corresponding to a key characteristic that the practitioners exhibit in their continual quest to be better.  I found the discussion of diligence, one of the focal characteristics, to be the most astounding.  A check of the thesaurus for diligence reveals synonyms such as attentiveness, thoroughness, conscientiousness, and persistence; what a wonderful quality!  Gawande’s book demonstrates that incredible results are achievable today, via diligence directed to the proper practice of simple tried and true methods.  I found it amazing to learn the effect of diligence in: 

• hand washing by hospital personnel – huge reductions in ever more prevalent and virulent infections such as staph
• systematic childhood vaccinations – near eradication of polio in impoverished countries where sometimes there is just one doctor for each 25,000 residents
• medical record keeping in Iraq – an increase to 90% survival rate of soldiers wounded in battle in Iraq from a 75% level that has consistently been the ceiling in every conflict since the Korean War. 

These results triggered me to think about how diligence could be put to work in my line of work, software system project delivery.  Your initial reaction to my jump to this thought could be that I’m being callous or insensitive to the gravity of the work discussed in Gawande’s book.  This was my first reaction as well; every day the extraordinary people discussed in Better are saving the lives of numerous children, hospital patients, and battle wounded soldiers.  However, no matter how considerably less critical, IT work is still important.  The projects we work on insure people get paid accurately and on time.  Additionally, successful software project implementations help the health of companies and their ability to deliver product and provide a livelihood for employees.  We’re not all saving lives but what we do is important!

So, what accepted IT project methods known today, given an extra bit of diligence, could pay us back with an inordinate amount of additional project success?  Three that immediately come to mind:

• requirements documentation – It’s very well known that clear system requirements foster project success.  The incidence of incomplete requirement sets that require rework or risky design and development assumptions could greatly be reduced with diligence – identifying and addressing all possible business scenarios is often the key.
• unit testing – Developers often find themselves struggling just to finish coding prior to aggressive deadlines.  Diligence is definitely required by these developers and their leadership to insure unit testing occurs correctly prior to calling development complete.
• design and code reviews – Design and code reviews allow the better utilization of less experienced project resources and increase the probability of a solid system solution.  Often though project personnel succumb to time crunches canceling reviews or conducting them without proper preparation or follow up. 

Maybe you’re not eradicating infectious disease or saving wartime injured, but don’t undersell the importance of your work.  If your day to day work is worth doing, it’s probably worth additional diligence.  I’m betting the positive effects will surprise you. Try it and see!

-Michael Stus