Avoiding Bureaucracy Maze: The Dilemma of Process Improvement
Process improvement is an essential tool for Engineering Managers (EM) to effectively manage their teams in delivering commercial software. However, processes can also hinder effectiveness if too much focus is placed on them or if techniques are poorly applied. The Agile movement is a prime example of how a change to focus on iteration and flexibility can become synonymous with rigid and ineffective structures.
So, how can managers apply process improvement without creating restrictive environments? To answer this question, let’s examine the two sides of the coin.
The Challenge of Improving an Unstable System
Improving an unstable system is challenging and often ineffective. Without a repeated process to improve, trying to respond to problems becomes a game of whack-a-mole. In an individual-centric environment, managers may resort to micromanagement by focusing on influencing individual team members. While this approach can improve the changes delivered by one person, it doesn’t address the system as a whole.
In contrast, a more stable environment provides a leverage point for the EM to act on the system. By updating review guidelines or discussing how the team follows existing guidelines, the EM can improve the entire team’s ability to review changes. This approach avoids micromanagement and focuses on improving the team as a whole.
The Pitfall of Accumulating Processes
Introducing new processes is relatively easy compared to removing them. Over time, people become accustomed to processes and may not question their necessity. Without clear understanding of why a process was introduced, it becomes difficult to evaluate its effectiveness or make necessary changes. This leads to the accumulation of processes, potentially creating a rigid environment.
To avoid this pitfall, any improvement proposal should center around the problem it is trying to solve. By focusing on the problem, the reasoning behind the proposed change becomes clear to everyone involved. This approach allows for better decision-making, reduces resistance, opens space for alternatives, and enables individual autonomy.
The Lean Way: Centering Process Improvement on Problems
The focus on problem-centered improvement aligns with the principles of Lean Production Systems. Work standardization is the foundation for continuous improvement, ensuring that standards are constantly changing and evolving. By focusing on the system’s bottlenecks and addressing one problem at a time, continuous improvement can be achieved.
In conclusion, managers should keep the team’s goals and bottlenecks in mind when implementing process changes. By staying problem-centered and following the principles of Lean, improvements will naturally follow.
If you found this content interesting, check out the Leading Software Teams with Systems Thinking series for more insights on leading effective software engineering teams.