29 Apr 2012
If there is one thing that is guaranteed to damage — if not doom — a project, it's ego.
Consider the project manager who hoards information because only she knows what's relevant to other team members and when. Or the new developer who just joined the company and wants to change established procedures because he knows how to do things better. Or the designer who won't consider critical feedback because she knows what she delivered is exactly what's needed.
I've worked with all of these types of people. In fact, at stages of my career, I've even been these types of people. At those times, I thought I was being passionate or committed to the project. But the truth of it was, I was letting my ego drive. And my ego wasn't interested in considering anything external. Because that's how egos are.
Egos don't care about requirements, timelines, budgets, user needs, limited resources or legacy systems. They don't care about other opinions or ideas. They are roadblocks to everything essential to making a project successful, especially compromise, collaboration and communication. And, worst of all, ego keeps you from growing. Your ego won't let you learn something new. Or see a different perspective. Or even get inspired.
Knowing this is so much easier than doing something about it, though. It can be hard to distinguish your ego from your opinion (or passion or commitment). But it's just as important to hone that skill as it is to keep up with changing technologies, because employers want someone with a point of view who is open to other points of view. Clients want to work with an expert who listens to them and considers their realities. Colleagues want to work with someone who has great ideas and welcomes others'. All of us want to be inspired, but not if it means tolerating assholery.
One of the simplest ways to keep ego in check is to take your time. I've learned to never respond immediately to a change request or a demanding question. Ego is always ready with the first answer, which is rarely the most thoughtful one. A little bit of time can make the difference between an ego-driven reply and a well-considered response.
It also helps to keep your focus on what's important. For example, if I feel myself getting defensive when a client wants to change a design, I try to shift my focus back to the client and what he needs and wants. This doesn't mean sacrificing my expertise or the project goals. It simply opens me to communication, which is the gateway to a successful project and a happy client who wants to work with me again.