Taking standardization too far

How far should you go?

There are ways to write software and ways to avoid.

As custom developers, my teams have written a lot of software.

Meanwhile, every time we bring new people on board, a question that comes to the forefront is “what is our way” to develop software.

Is it enough to say we are an agile shop, and XP happens to drive our flavor of agile more than SCRUM at this point?

What about the pieces of SCRUM we have appropriated as well?

What about the way we handle user experience, or document requirements, or resolve issues?

Being the same, being different

The more we follow “standard” methods, the easier new team members can join our teams, right? Couldn’t we just drop in a certified Scrum Master and all is well? (Well, not for an XP shop, I suppose.)

Meanwhile, the more we pick and choose what makes us most productive, the more we’re differentiated and the more we can produce competitive advantage through our processes, right?

I have been on too many methodology design projects, and I keep wondering why companies don’t just buy their methods like RUP, or just pick one and get a training company to have everybody start from the same page. (I know some do.)

My answer (to myself) is that though they would start with one way of doing things, they would soon be confronted with one of two options:

  1. Handle all sorts of exception cases and weaken the “standard approach”, or
  2. Even worse… they would cram all projects (and the people in them) into the same mold

From the same mold

George Dinwiddie’s weekend post on process standards triggered my thoughts in this area. It has also been triggered by the most embarrassing situation imaginable and my own rethinking of my offers to the market.

How does each person contribute to the team?

One of the most fundamental points in George’s post is that people have different strengths. They bring those strengths into a team environment.

In many cases it is difficult if not impossible to accurately distinguish the specific impact of each contribution to the team.

For example, the least productive developer is not always the one who completes the lowest number of story points in an iteration (e.g., if they invest in coaching and helping others).

The thing is, the more we use the same metrics for everyone, the more we insist on the same behaviors from everyone, the more we ask them indirectly to play outside of their strengths.

Meanwhile, removing them from the team could cut others’ productivity and ultimately risk project success.

In my comment to George, I mentioned three goals I had in identifying “our way” of doing things. Ultimately, they had to do with making it easy for people to fit into the team.

As I consider the potential negative side effects of removing individuality, I also wonder if too much standardization can be a trap, ultimately leading us away from the highly productive teams we are after???

Now, I could see how a very straightforward IT environment might do fine with highly standardized processes. It seems to me the more adaptive the environment, the more important playing to each team member’s strengths becomes.

So I have a specific question for you today – how much of my concern for individuality do you think relates to our work in custom software, and how much could apply to any situation?

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About ken
Creative insights, passion and technical adrenaline - strategist, agile coach and marketer, providing a good life for wife of 20 years & 2 awesome teenagers!

2 Responses to Taking standardization too far

  1. Hi,

    Great post and that is simple and explained in history. When you have lots of process and rules your creativity gets lower.

    In times that rules aren’t rigid the creativity gets up, so is like a team you need some rules but the amount of then to enable the creativity flow.

    JC

    • ken says:

      Hello João, thanks for your comment. As I was reading it, I started thinking about ‘autonomy’. All the rules we create constrain team members from acting on their own, sometimes inventing new ways to do things. Meanwhile, the rules codify much of what we have learned over time, sometimes through hard-won experience… and they make it easier for us to work together, because you can expect people to act in a certain way.

      I have read a few posts about “sprint holidays” and other ways to encourage creativity and self-expression in teams. Most of them have more to do with avoiding burnout, but maybe we can figure out a way to do “process holidays, too”???

      Kind regards,
      –k

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