Top performers


  1. A top performer needs the flexibility to use the “sprinklings” each day that keep him or her sharp and motivated.
  2. Having to defend each sprinkling kills hope for a top performer.
  3. A top performer has demonstrated that their way works, so it only makes sense that instead of demanding a justification for each decision, we should be learning from their example.
  4. The trust (on a company’s part) involved in not requiring such defense is part of identifying someone as a top performer.
  5. The question is, am I in that group?


  1. Does this need for flexibility apply only to top performers?
  2. When we deny a developer the flexibility to do day-to-day “sprinklings” on their own initiative, are we keeping them from becoming a top performer?
  3. What are the challenges to an organization wishing to give flexibility to some but not others?
  4. If you give flexibility to all, how do you deal with the lower performers whom you cannot trust to use the flexibility wisely? For such people, to what extent does the tighter structure help them produce acceptably (in other words, to what extent is the tighter control having its intended effect in the cases where it’s seen as needed)?

(Updated 1/14/2008)

The hidden assumption

The hidden assumption: that the level of work I’m doing when I am free to improve things is the same as when I lack such freedom and feel that my contribution to the company is not what it could be (with the accompanying loss of hope).

The assumption is that if we take out all the sprinklings* we meet our deadlines faster. But it’s those sprinklings that keep me going, otherwise it could take me a week just to put together a simple design doc! It’s another one of those upside-down things. How can more classes be simpler? And then in this case, how can spending fewer hours directly on a project make it quicker to complete?

Being able to defend and explain these things is a separate skill from being able to do them. I have more of the second, very little of the first.


*What I’m calling “Sprinklings” are the things we do each day to improve our craft.