Dashing through the swamp

Let's start with a short quote from the book I'm reading at the moment (recommended, good stuff):

"In good organizations, people can focus on their work and have confidence that if they get their work done, good things will happen for both the company and them personally.

(...)

In a poor organization, on the other hand, people spend too much of their time fighting organizational boundaries, infighting & broken processes. They are not even clear on what their jobs are, so there is no way to know if they are getting the job done or not."

Ben Horowitz, "The Hard Thing About Hard Things"

It's hard to disagree with Ben, don't you think? Everything that distracts people, derails them from the state of "flow", forces them to do something that's not contributing the the expected value (indirectly or directly) should be treated as an obstacle & dealt with urgently (removed, rejected, delegated, postponed, etc.).

Tacking into the wind

But still, in many organization so-called governance has much higher priority than fighting impediments. Organizations hire highly-skilled, well educated & ambitious engineers or other specialists just to ...

  • ... force them to use the same hardware, setup & policies (usually outdated) that apply to all other office workers
  • ... treat them all as assumed criminals (by tightening the security policies to the level of absurdity), assuming the worst possible intentions
  • ... deprive them of the efficient, industry-standard tools ("Git hasn't been internally certified", "StackOverflow could be used to leak stuff with IP rights", ...) - the same they can use at home ...
  • ... subdue them to "ivory tower" regulations & limitations (in terms of patterns, processes & practices), while expecting to provide creativity & innovation ...
  • etc.

Looks familiar?

Usually all of the obstacles mentioned above just require some effort to be overcome - policies can be adjusted, approvals may be gained, software licenses may be acquired, even audits can be performed - it's a matter of goodwill, determination, time & effort. But heavily bureaucratic organizations like their drill, so it's rarely a smooth & easy path - that's why no-one likes it. Managers prefer to stay with what they feel more comfortable with (yes, you've guessed right - the "governance") & specialists are sick of struggling with the resistant matter, as in engineers' perspective it's just ridiculous & illogical.

Live with that?

These two attitudes combined together create an aura of helplessness and reconciliation with fate, everyone's get irritated, morale takes a tumble, etc. Instead of scampering like a speeding dolphin, whole company wades in the swampy mud of broken corporate culture.

But does it have to be like that?

What's the point of sophisticated governance if you're not doing anything about the shit you already know is slowing things down? Isn't "managing" supposed to mean re-acting appropriately when problems are encountered? Aren't these specialists (engineers) the ones who actually deliver the value, so isn't their time (& efficiency) actually one of the most important resources you have?

Sadly, it's the old-school managerial approach that still seems dominating:

  • being a manager is a usually earned with time (& significant effort, no port in denying) - it's more a position than a role, position of power, power over people; such a manager can't even imagine himself serving people, it's the people who are supposed to obey his will
  • fighting impediments has limited visibility & exposure; it's the dirty, smelly work in the company's most damp sewers - there's not much prestige or glory around that, no opportunity for a show-off in front of superiors
  • traditional governance is just very convenient, enforcing deadlines is a straightforward no-brainer; removing impediments is rarely easy, never pleasant nor enjoyable - it means getting down to the trenches, doing actual work people depend on, taking the responsibility

But if no-one fights the system, how can we expect it to improve?

Pic: © koszivu - Fotolia.com