Mission Control

Do you know what your mission is?

Some of you may be saying "To boundary test Feature X". Some may be describing what you came into this lifetime to do. Others of you may be immersed in the process of defining your mission. And yet others may believe you do not have a mission at all.

For a long time I was in the "I have a mission?" camp. Then came a time when I realized that my work had become actual work rather than the playtime it used to be. One technique I used to get back to enjoying my job was to define my mission.

I create missions for most everything I do. My mission describes my focus in a particular scope, be that "Why I do my job" or "What I am doing this minute" or "What I am doing this lifetime". When I wanted to understand why I was not enjoying my job I focused on why I did that work, what I did and didn't enjoy about it, and what I did and didn't want to be doing in it. When I run a Session Based Test Management (SBTM) Test Session, my mission defines my focus for that period of time. My mission in life - as much of it as I know, anyway - describes what I came into this life to do.

When I set out to define a mission I strive for a succinct description of my purpose. My current mission at work is "Solve the problems that keep us from quality, and mentor the team to technical excellence". My mission for a Test Session might be "Boundary test the Map Folder feature". I describe my mission in life as "Help people learn how to learn". Each of these is short enough for me to remember yet precise enough to give me a starting point for evaluating how well individual tasks fit what I mean to be doing.

This is one reason I find missions valuable: they give me an easily remembered and easily stated bar against which to judge how I spend my time. They also give me a short and simple way to describe what I am doing in a particular context. Both of these help me ignore distractions and stay focused on what I mean to be doing.

Some missions, such as those for SBTM Test Sessions, tend to be easy for me to define. Other missions I find more difficult to nail down. In these cases I often start with what I do or do not want to be doing or have happen and then work backwards to my mission. When I defined my work mission, for example, I began by listing everything I did and didn't like about my last several assignments and projects, reorganized and rearranged that list until common themes began to appear, then journaled and talked about those themes until I developed a mission which described all of them.

The importance I place on a mission and the time I take to define it tend to track each other. I spent weeks coming up with my work mission. I might spend sixty seconds defining my mission for a Test Session. I have spent thirty-seven years on my life mission so far and am prepared to spend many more. The curve seems to be exponential. <g/>

I find missions useful in every aspect of my life, from deciding which job to take to deciding which movie to watch. Define some missions of your own and let me know how they work for you!

(For more on missions, read Johanna Rothman and Esther Derby's Behind Closed Doors and/or Johanna's Manage It!.)


*** Want a fun job on a great team? I need a tester! Interested? Let's talk: Michael dot J dot Hunter at microsoft dot com. Great testing and coding skills required.