In the beginning, when you stare down a project—say, researching and photo editing a news story or photo feature, or becoming a new boss—it's not always our first instinct to take a step back and decide "I'm going to take this step by step, write it all down, and record the process so I know how to do it even better next time." And usually we just don't have the damn time. But it's so crucial to becoming ace at anything you do, to really pay attention to the process and the key pieces that make something successful, just averagely so, or a total flop.
Somewhere around a year or so in to being in a recently new role, I received a request from an international partner asking me and my team to essentially teach their team how we did our jobs. This isn't a small feat, as each team member has varying degrees of expertise and subject matter knowledge. It's something that makes our process really great, but also really hard to distill down into a primer. We decided to give it a go because we wanted to help our partners out—we also wanted to take the opportunity to document a process by which we had been leading excellence in visual standards all along.
It took us a while to come up with the format, but we settled on a nice concise PDF, because, who doesn't love a good PDF? It outlined everything from general principals and a bit of theory on research, to a full set of technical and image quality guidelines, to specs on file handling and archival naming structures. It was a pretty nice looking PDF when we were done with it. It had pictures—lots of 'em. The best part was that the whole team weighed in. It wasn't just a group exercise in formalizing a process, it was a document that recorded how we worked as a group.
I'm not trying to get sentimental about a PDF. But our PDF was great, and it's because it represented something we did as a team, plus something a little bigger for me personally. Looking at the finished product, it offered a chance for me to pause and reflect on how far we'd come together, and on the fact that because I'd held true to some of my own personal best practices and guidelines, I think I had started to become the type of boss I'd hoped I would.
I wish I could wrap up all the things that led me down that particular path in a nice neat PDF. For now, I'll just keep writing about them—and then I'll take an even longer moment to pause and reflect again.