Archive for June, 2010


Happy People or Slick Process?

June 27, 2010

Over the past few years, the focus of many organizations has moved to ensure that they have controls and processes and work-practices in place. This is backed up with automation and tools that ensure that more and more of the practices that controlled and “fool-proof”. The idea is to try to stop people making mistakes by ensuring that everything is controlled, audited and managed.

While this has undoubtedly allowed organization to deliver more and more complex systems, I do not believe that the resulting increases in quality or productivity, or the reduction in costs is commensurate to the investment made.

We need to remember that *people* still need to do the work, and people who are happy in their work are generally more productive, both quantitatively and qualitatively. It is time to reinforce this concept and structure the happiness of the people. Most organizations that fail in their improvement programmes (and I estimate that 80% of improvement programmes fail in a significant manner, some of them recover) fail because they have listened to consultants and technocrats and salespeople and have not considered their own staff, the people doing the work. The good theoretical processes that are implemented in many organizations tend to alienate the people who need to use them and end up creating more bureaucracy than anything else.

It is not difficult to make people happy at work; the ingredients are well known, but few people in authority appear willing to follow the recipe, because they believe there must be a short-cut.

1. People need a sense of direction, clear objectives that explain what the organization does, what their role is within that organization and what their job is within that role. This sense of direction is explained and demonstrated: if you talk about quality and measure costs and schedules, every one rapidly understands that “quality” means delivering anything cheap and fast.

2. People need the means to do their work, that includes the time, the budget, the tools, the training and their management support.

3. People need their humanity to be recognized: all humans make mistakes continuously. By acknowledging that fact, management can encourage staff to recognize their mistakes, learn from them and share the lessons learnt instead of investing a lot of time in covering them up.

4. People need to be respected. If I estimate that it is going to take me 5 days to do a job, my manager tells me to do it in three, and finally the sales rep promises that it will be completed in two (because the customer is always right), I will feel devalued. As a consequence, I will ensure that I complete the job according to my own original estimate, and will pad the estimate next time to cover the downgrading.

5. People need to be respected even more – when they have been doing a job more or less successfully for many years, it would be nice to ask them their recommendations on how to improve and change things rather than relying only on some theoretician/consultant (yes, I am a consultant, so I may say this).

6. People need support. When given a job that they do not understand, staff need to feel that they can go to their manager and say what the problem is. They need to know that management will respect people who admit weakness and provide them the environment they need to learn and grow.

7. People need an environment that is conducive to their work. If they are doing an intellectual, creative job that requires high levels of concentration (e.g. engineers), they should not be placed in noisy open-space offices where they are interrupted every 30 seconds by other people’s phone calls and conversations.

8. People need to be able to share and discuss with colleagues, something that requires team-spaces by opposition to open-plan offices or isolated offices.

I am reassured that most of these points are covered by the CMMI at Maturity Level 2. If the generic practices are implemented correctly, with policies, proactive QA and measurements that support one another, we will rapidly have progress. If the processes and practices are implemented by the people doing the work and avoiding the temptation of jumping straight to level-3 style standardization, success can be achieved, to the general satisfaction of all involved.

And satisfied people are happy people who are motivated to do good work.

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