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People Laws (part 2)

May 28, 2008

redwhitemarbles The seventh law of development physics:

Good people in a bad system will generate poor results and a bad morale.  Responsibility without authority is counterproductive and demoralizing.

This gets to the heart of leadership.  I would argue that the systems leaders put into place have more impact on people than any other thing they do. They empower or restrict their abilities to get things done.  Systems, along with the vision created, are the tools people use to deliver desired outcomes and ultimately achieve beyond the expected possibilities. Among the systems that have the most impact are the processes, the value systems, and the measurement and incentive systems implemented.

We’ve discussed in some depth how agile development processes enable people to achieve better results. We might even from this conclude that agile makes great leaders. I would at least postulate that agile empowers people to do more though better process.  I have also discussed how focus on the right values can further promote exceptional performance.

To show the impact of poorly designed measurement and incentive systems, Deming used an red bead experiment. Participants were asked to scoop beads without looking from a bin of mixed red and white beads. Red beads were measured as defects. The participant with the fewest defects was named “employee of the month” and those with high defect rates were demoted or counseled. When repeated, those counseled usually improved, showing how management was “successful.” The top performers almost always performed more poorly, showing they were “slacking” after their recognition. Obviously, the “employees” were only demonstrating natural variability and had little ability to impact the results. The resulting drain on performance and morale is easy to extrapolate.

Subtle nuances of incentive systems can have broad unintended consequences. The real life examples of incentive measurements that imitate the red bead experiment are many. Due dates for on-time performance can have little consideration for capacity; production may be reduced due to raw materials shortages; profitability for a project may be predetermined by sales or existing contracts; time demands may not allow for focus on performance improvement initiatives; needed resources may not be allocated; and many more.

The eighth law of development physics:

People are different.

While obvious, often the impacts of this law are not fully considered. Individuals have different talents, interests and motivations. Changing even one person on a development team can drastically impact output rates, as well as the team’s interaction and other dynamics.  If the team is not “recalibrated” for the change, expectations may not be met. This includes not just adjusting capacity, but ensuring other systems continue to be relevant. People between teams and organizations will also vary significantly. It makes little sense to force a system into place that does not match the individuals that work within it.

The ninth law of development physics:

There is a champion for every cause, at least for awhile.

We seem to be in an age where powerful advocates can drum up support for any new management concept. In the past, we’ve seen development impacted by waterfall, spiral, RUP, CMMi, TQM, BPR, Outsourcing and a host of other improvement ideas all with strong advocates – some with mixed results. Recently, we’ve seen acceptance for agile with a lot of demonstrated success from strong advocates.  We’ve also seen agile implemented as a justification for “no process” or “no testing.” Lately, “Agile 2.0” or the next generation of agile have been postulated. Advocates can be powerful change agents; they also can make unsound ideas seem attractive or implement them poorly. Balanced, appropriate, and incremental change usually wins out. Thus, my call for fundamental principles or “laws” as the foundation for building change and creating champions that can promote worthy causes and approaches that last.

Credit: This post is developed from Wallace Hopp’s and Mark Spearman’s great book Factory Physics, Foundations of Manufacturing Management, Mcgraw-Hill/Irwin, 1996, chapter 12. 

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