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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The Corvette wait list and the Google+ “back door”

Hmmm, I see... circles?

My company is full of the old-school kind of nerd, not really the “social media” kind of nerd.

It’s cool… there is room for everybody to be a nerd where they are particularly suited.

I run a custom software company in which one of our guys got an invite to Google+ and found a way to get everyone else in… as you might expect from resourceful custom software guys, right?

Anyway, the result is just about the whole company is now using Google+, and all but one of us “got in” after the invitation cutoff date.

Many of our folks still lurk on blogs, in fact if you are faint of heart beware that many are lurking behind this blog post as you read it…

Most don’t have a Twitter handle, so they are definitely not social media nerds… but last Friday the “buzz”seemed to be mostly about Google+.

It is fun and engaging, and hard to pull away from. Early conversations were the kind you expect when people are just figuring out what something means to them.

The Google+ wait list?

Some will drop off, and some will get pulled deeper in… the “limited access” strategy is a lot like the Corvette wait list… it makes you want it more.

For my teams to feel they have found a back door in makes it special for them, too… and I suspect it is a back door that was left propped open, with the kitchen light left on.

Now, I am not a conspiracy theory guy. I just think if the invitation cut-off was a form of wait listing strategy or not… it sure ended up producing the same outcome in terms of behaviors.

…And the kind of people who can find the back door to get in might feel a little better for winning the prize.

…And the kind of people who have cracked into the platform have already demonstrated they will play with the rules to see what happens next… so why not “invite” them in early?

…And along with the social marketers, aren’t those the kind of ravenous fans you want to build (like Facebook with its college-only initial strategy)?

So this is perhaps a little shameless, but I am going to have some fun with you. If you want in, you will have to post a meaningful comment below. Of course, most of my coworkers are already “in”, but I would love to hear your thoughts about this, too.