People aren't empowered to add value

posted by Jeff | Monday, March 30, 2015, 7:00 PM | comments: 0

I did a talk last weekend at Orlando Code Camp (which was completely awesome, by the way... ditto for everything I said last year), which was largely about anti-patterns. I had a couple of questions during the last talk, and in the hallway after, about the fact that people in our profession, developers and managers alike, often fail to question anything about process. Specifically, people never stop to ask if what they're doing is adding value.

I had brought it up in the context of testing code, that people will often test the most uninteresting thing that can't fail because there is no logic to test, just so they can say that it's covered. In the further chats we had, there was a broader point made about spending time on things that don't add value. Endless requirements, forms no one looks at... there is a pretty long list you could make.

So what is the problem? I've made the case before that software developers aren't the best at taking a vested interest in the problem. I suppose you could chalk it up to certain personality types that just want instructions and will go off and do the work, but I think that's an increasingly small percentage of developers. I think many want to understand the business that they're serving on a deeper level. It's a cultural shift that I've seen happening slowly the last ten years.

The thing is, narrowing the context to software developers probably doesn't do the problem justice. I think this is a widespread problem across all industries. It's not just that individuals don't bother to ask if they're adding value, it's that in many cases, they simply aren't permitted to. Managers and policy makers are in the same rut. They continue to check boxes because "we always did it this way," or some other silly position. Because they want to maintain order in a command-and-control hierarchy, they don't ask if what they or their people are doing are adding value either. It's not just an issue of efficiency, as this cultural establishment also stifles innovation and creativity.

In our line of work, there are certainly places that are changing the value questions (or lack thereof). Flat organizations, empowered, self-organizing teams and trust make it a lot easier to ask, "Is what I'm doing right now adding value?"

For all of the talk about whether or not theme park employees deserve higher pay, I'm often surprised at how often I see examples at Disney where people can ask the value adding question. For example, I've seen cast members get a dessert for an unhappy kid, or sacrifice ride loading efficiency to give an ASD kid the front seat. They're trusted to make a decision, even if it does mean breaking from convention. I dig that.


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