Being committed is a state of mind. For whatever reason, you have undertaken to do something, and you feel you should do it. A commitment, however, is more than just something you intend to do; there is also someone who expects you to do it. This, in fact, is the key issue with commitments: Who is the person to whom you are committed? In the legal or contractual sense, you are committed to someone else: your professor, your manager, your employer. More important, however, are the deeper commitments you make to yourself.
The principal problem with many software schedules and plans is that management views them as contract-like commitments, but the software engineers do not view them as personal commitments. The difference, as we shall see, is largely in how the commitments are made.
With a contractual commitment, two or more people must agree on the intended action before it is a commitment. For example, Mr. A and Ms. B agree that Mr. A will provide some product or do some task for Ms. B. An example is your commitment to your teacher to do a homework assignment for a course.
Another example would be your agreement to write a program for a customer.
When Mr. A makes a commitment, he agrees with Ms. B to perform a specified task by some defined time and for some reward or compensation. This points out two more elements of commitments. In addition to agreeing on the task, the parties also agreed on the time it is to be done and on the payment or other consideration Mr. A will receive in return. Again, an example would be your agreement to complete and submit homework in one week and the instructor's agreement to give you a grade on the work. Another example could be a customer's obligation to pay you for developing and installing some software.
A key characteristic of personal commitments is that they are voluntary. Suppose, for example, that your customer finds he needs the program sooner and tells you to finish it two weeks earlier than originally agreed. He never asked if you could finish by this earlier date, and you did not agree. You were just told the new deadline. Even though you may try to meet the new date, you probably won't feel personally committed to doing so.
To become truly committed, you must have thoughtfully considered the alternatives and decided that this is something you can and will do. Being told by someone that you must do it will not make you personally committed. In fact, when people are ordered to do things, they often feel threatened and angry. They resent the person making the directive and may even want to retaliate. One way to retaliate, of course, would be to not do the demanded action. While such a reaction to a normal business request may seem childish, many people unconsciously respond this way.
True agreement is the most important single characteristic of a personal commitment. The parties must agree on what is to be done, when it will be completed, and what will be given in return. A true commitment is both personal and contractual and it requires an explicit and voluntary agreement between two or more parties on
• The criteria for determining that it is done
• The compensation or other consideration to be given in return
• Who will provide this compensation or consideration
In addition to the characteristics already described, commitments should be responsibly made and properly managed. You can make sure your commitments are responsible and well managed as follows.
Analyze the job before agreeing to the commitment. Both parties must enter into the commitment in good faith. You are personally committed and really intend to do the job and the other party intends to provide suitable compensation in return.
The question, however, is the degree to which you have both made sure you can meet the commitment. For example, have you examined the job in sufficient detail to know you can do it? Similarly, does the other party have the capability to compensate you? Too often, software commitments are based on little more than hope. Even when both parties truly intend to perform, mere good intentions do not provide a reasonable basis for a sound commitment.
Support the commitment with a plan. For a job of any size, the way to responsibly make a commitment is to first make a plan for the work. Planning does involve some effort, but it need not
7.11 Manage Commitments So You Don't Forget Any or Run Out of Time 207
take very long. In fact, if you have had experience in making formal plans, you can usually complete them quite quickly.
Document the agreement. While this may seem obvious, it is not. There is a common misperception that honest people should need only a few words and a handshake. But words are often misunderstood. Even after two people orally agree, they often have trouble agreeing on a written statement of the agreement.
This means that their original agreement was superficial and not real. The second problem concerns what the two parties will do in the event of problems. That, in fact, is the principal reason for most written contracts. You do not need a contract when everything goes according to plan—you need one if there are problems.
If unable to meet the commitment, promptly tell the other party and try to minimize the impact on that person. When you have learned to manage your commitments, you will almost always meet them. unfortunately, even with the best plans, the job will occasionally be more complex than you expected or something unforeseen may come up.
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