In “The Politics Of Projects“, Robert Block rightly states: “People want products, not projects“. The ideal project takes zero time, no labor, and no financial investment. The holy grail is to transition from abstract desire to concrete outcome in no time flat :). Nevertheless, for any non-trivial product development effort requiring a diverse team of people to get the job done, some sort of project (or, “coordinated effort” for you #noprojects advocates) is indeed required. Whether self-organized or dictator-directed, there has to be some way of steering, focusing the effort of a team of smart people to achieve the outcomes that a project is expected to produce.
At the simplistic BD00 level of comprehension, a project is one of two binary types: a potential revenue generator or a potential cost reducer.
Startups concentrate solely on projects that raise revenue. At this stage of the game, not a second thought is given to cost-reduction projects – the excitement of creating value reigns. As a startup grows and adds layers of “professional” management to control the complexity that comes with that growth, an insidious shift takes place. The mindset at the top flips from raising revenue to reducing costs and increasing efficiency. In large organizations, every employee has experienced multiple, ubiquitous, top-down “cost reduction initiatives“, the worst of which is the dreaded reduction-in-force initiative. On the other hand, org-wide initiatives to increase revenues are rare.
The figure below shows two types of performance evaluation systems; one that measures individual performance and the other which measures team performance.
Even though the figure implies a causal connection between type of measurement system and quality of team output, as usual, I have no idea if a causal relationship exists. I suspect they are statistically correlated though, and the correlation is indeed as shown. I think the system on the left encourages intra-team competition whereas the system on the right catalyzes intra-team cooperation. What do you think?
I really love this elegantly written paragraph by Stewart Brand:
The combination of fast and slow components makes the system resilient, along with the way the differently paced parts affect each other. Fast learns, slow remembers. Fast proposes, slow disposes. Fast is discontinuous, slow is continuous. Fast and small instructs slow and big by accrued innovation and occasional revolution. Slow and big controls small and fast by constraint and constancy. Fast gets all our attention, slow has all the power. All durable dynamic systems have this sort of structure; it is what makes them adaptable and robust. – Clock Of The Long Now – Stewart Brand
If you think about organizations, the people at the bottom of the hierarchy should be the fast components that instruct and inform the slow controlling components at the top, no? However, if those at the top allow, or turn a blind eye to bureaucratic processes and procedures that impede quickness at the bottom, they’re screwing up big time, no? Requiring the builders dwelling in the cellar to jump through multiple, multi-layer review/approval cycles to purchase a 5 dollar part, or go to a conference, or get a custom, but simple, cable built, or add some useful code to a widely used library, can be considered an impediment, no?
Ninety percent of what we call ‘management’ consists of making it difficult for people to get get things done – Peter Drucker
If those at the top of a borg solely concern themselves with “the numbers“, bonuses for themselves, and rubbing elbows with other fellow biggies while the borg’s so-called support groups and middle managers stifle the builders with ever more red tape, then fuggedaboud having any fast components in the house. And if Mr. Brand is right in that resilient, durable, adaptable, learning systems require a mix of fast and slow components, then those at the top deserve the results they get from the unresilient, undurable, unadaptable, and unlearning borg they preside over.
“A person is smart, people are stupid.” – Agent K (Men in Black)
I’m forever fascinated by how large groups of bright and well-meaning individuals often behave so dysfunctionally as a “whole“. How can that be? It’s because the individual “parts” of an organization don’t determine the behavior of the whole. It’s the part-to-part interactions enabled by, and (more importantly) disabled by, the structure of an organization that determines system behavior. By default, hierarchically structured orgs suppress collaborative communications in the horizontal dimension while catalyzing top down command and control communications in the vertical dimension.
In the vertical dimension, the fact that bosses get to unconditionally decide on how to divvy out tasks and rewards to their “subordinates” below ensures that the dweebs in the lower tiers will do whatever the boss wants them to do with little, if any, frictional blowback. In the horizontal dimension, crucial information can be withheld and collaborative communication suppressed because of peer-to-peer competition for the limited number of coveted slots available upstairs in the ever narrowing pyramid.
Fresh from Tom Gilb’s “Advanced Agile Practices” presentation, I give you Dave Rico’s 14 pitfalls of agile methods:
If you look closely at the list, the entries don’t just apply to attempts at agilization. They are daunting challenges for any aspiring corpo change agent who wishes to make a sweeping change to “the way we develop products“.
A disgusted reader recently sent me this link regarding yet another textbook example of corpo scam artistry: “Bwin.party proposes new bonus plan for top execs as share price languishes“. Since the board of directors at a borg is usually a hand picked crew of yes-men by the “senior leadership team“, the article headline should probably read: “Bwin.party executives propose new bonus plan for themselves as share price languishes.“
When pay for performance under the current set of “KPI“s (Key Performance Indicators) stops the money from flowing into the pockets of the head shed aristocracy, the answer is always the same no-brainer. Simply get your board-of-derelicts to lower the bar and champion a new set of bogus KPIs to the powerless and fragmented shareholdership. Ka-ching!
With the old bonus benchmarks now akin to launching manned space flights to Alpha Centauri, Bwin.party is proposing a new scheme that more accurately reflects the company’s lowered expectations. Under this plan, CEO Norbert Teufelberger would pick up a maximum bonus of 550% of his annual base salary of £500k, while chief financial officer Martin Weigold would receive 435% of his £446k annual pay packet. – Steven Stradbrooke
When borgs perform brazen acts of inequity like Bwin.party (“party” is literally true for the execs), the rationalizations they spew to the public are mostly hilarious repetitions recycled from the past:
- Bwin.party says the paydays are necessary because the US market is beginning to open up, and the hordes of US gaming companies looking to move online lack senior management with online know-how.
- The potential for US companies to poach senior execs from experienced European companies represents “the single biggest threat to Bwin.party’s ability to retain its senior management.”
- Bwin.party also suggests its top execs deserve danger pay due to “aggressive enforcement of national laws against senior executives within the industry.”
Danger pay? Bwaaahahhah and WTF! That excuse certainly wasn’t dug up from the past. Ya gotta give the clever board-of-derelicts bonus points for such creative genius: “If ya break the law and damage the company, don’t worry. We’ve got ya covered.” Why not go one step further and give Bwin.party’s employees hazard pay for having to work under such a cast of potentially criminal bozeltines?
To determine if executive compensation has any correlation to company performance, BD00 performed 30 seconds worth of intensive research and plotted the results of his arduous effort for your viewing pleasure:
So, whadya think? Is executive compensation tied to performance over the long haul? Regardless of how you answer the question, ya gotta love capitalism because after all is said, it’s the worst “ism” except for all the other “isms“.
When I started this blog four years ago, I had to decide whether to publish as an anonymous coward or to use my real name. I struggled with the decision for a bit because I knew I was going to write frequently, real frequently, about dysfunctional management and institutional behaviors that I’ve both experienced and (even more so) read about over the years. In addition, since I’m a high energy, passionate animal who doesn’t hold much back and at times finds it hard to compromise, I knew that much of my content was going be highly caustic and offensive.
Out of fear of repercussions, I decided to start writing incognito… until a dear friend brought up the perplexing issue again. After rethinking the situation, I resolved to let it all hang out. I gingerly hoisted my name up on my “About me” page. Never say never, but I didn’t (and still don’t) care about climbing any corpo ladder or presenting the squeaky clean image that all main stream “leadership” books tout as necessary to “get ahead“. I have some hairy warts and barnacles growing on my brain and, hell, I choose to expose them.
So, if I don’t want to get ahead by movin’ on up, then WTF does BD00 want? I want to keep ruining drill bits while I blast away at the impenetrable bedrock that entombs the holy grail of effective software development. I like going deep, deep, deep down into the unexplored corners of programming (in C++, of course), design, architecture, requirements, and the squishy realm of team-based software development processes. These closely-coupled topics excite me because there seems to be no bottom, no final “truths“, no end to life-long learning in any of them. It’s what I was meant to do.
What were you meant to do?
Somewhere on the road from small startup sensation to huge institutional borgdom, the oft-repeated process of “manage-ification by growth” fires up and kicks into high gear. It’s inevitable, or is it?
When I first encountered the work of each of these three original thinkers, it blew me away. Their insights on organizational and management behaviors were like a breath of fresh air compared to the C-suite pandering, jargonized junk that business schools spew and pop business icons like Tom Peters promulgate (no offense Tom, I like some of your ideas).
Managers who are skilled communicators may also be good at covering up real problems – Chris Argyris
AFAIK, there’s nobody like this trio of intellectual giants left standing (maybe they’ve won?). There are, however, a handful of second string, accessible, truth-tellers out there. Henry Mintzberg, Sam Culbert, and Steve Denning come to mind. Who can you add to this list?