When I was starting out as a Software Project Manager, A Zen Master taught me something that I never forgot. It happened when I was complaining about the lack of process behind the development team that I had just inherited.
I was younger then, and was frantically trying to introduce more structure to the way that my team shipped software. I could see a lot of the reasons for the product delays and the quality assurance failures. I just wanted to help. I had policy documents, and process plans, and Gant Charts. Lots of Gant Charts. But every effort I made to modify the process was met with stony resistance. In conversation, people could see that I was making sense. They would agree that yes, things were broken, and they probably shouldn’t be.
And yet I couldn’t get them to change anything. That was when the Zen Master appeared:
Me: “Grrrr! These guys are just making it up as they go! Everybody is just sitting around waiting for the developers to be finished. No wonder everything is so crappy and full of bugs. There is no structure or process here! ”
Zen Master: “You are wrong. There is structure.”
Zen Master: “Structure comes in two states: implicit or explicit. You are complaining because there is no defined structure. Particularly no structure that has been defined by you.”
As is so often the case in fantasy Zen Stories, the master was right!
There was plenty of structure to the way people worked. It had grown organically based on the way that people wanted to work. It was hard to describe, and it was optimized more for individual happiness than for productivity, but it was there.
It dawned on me then that the best way to effect change was to embrace the practices that were implicit.
And it is the central premise behind Enterprise 2.0 or Social Productivity software. Harnessing the implicit structure of an organization can be the best way to improve it. People are innately social. They like to talk. They like to discuss things. They like to achieve things. They like to share. They like to boast.
It turns out the easiest way to get things done is to optimize the way people innately tend to do them.
Incidentally, If your PM is complaining about a lack of processes, it means that she can’t effectively bring about the cultural change that is required. You should either give her more authority, or hire a new PM. Or you could see if you can rustle up a Zen master to change her mind.
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