Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Design anti-patterns: the value-add de-motivation technique

In a recent article, Marshall Goldsmith describes a scenario familiar to anyone who designs products or websites. A designer presents a new idea in a meeting that includes his or her manager. The manager pipes up with "improvements" to the designer's original idea. As Goldsmith asks, what does that do to the designer's commitment to the original idea?

I've seen this scenario occur literally dozens of times. In one case, a business analyst was developing a streamlined, iterative software development process for use by an IT department. Another analyst wrangled an invitation to the review sessions where the business analyst was presenting the new process. The invited analyst proceeded to shred the recommended process and, through argumentation and stubborness, inserted her own approach to software development into the process. When the new process was released the invited analyst cheerfully noted that she had gotten everything she wanted in changes to the process. However, the business analyst who had initiated the work and had intended to implement and steward the new process, was so demoralized by the experience that she left her role for another position in the company. The new software process was published but, with no one to steward it, it was never used by project teams in the IT department.

As Goldsmith points out, a lot of this behavior occurs because managers (or analysts) are trying to make themselves look good in front of others. "Looking good" implies that the culture supports and rewards that sort of behavior. The other factor here is that managers value concrete deliverables, whether designs, code, or published processes. There's less awareness of, and value placed on, intangibles like commitment, loyalty, and motivation. How can a manager "prove" that he or she increased his direct reports' commitment to their projects by some percentage in the last quarter? But commitment to a project can make or break the project. Managers need to understand that.

No comments: