What makes them tick?

Recently, I was involved in a discussion regarding the optimal organizational structure for a large software engineering organization. Several of the attendees were proposing various structures. The primary goal was efficiency and maximizing the output of each individual.

The proposals included ideas such as creating a resource pool made up of software engineers with varying skill sets where team members act as a group waiting for assignments. In this scenario, any given engineer could be working on many different projects over a period of time. The source code tree he is working on today may very well be different than the one he had worked on even the prior week.

As the discussion progressed, I found myself believing the participants had missed a critical point. My belief was and is workers (software developers in particular) need to feel a sense of ownership in the project they are working on. In other words, most modern day developers are not content to work on code where they do not have an understanding of how their effort relates to the success of the unit. Beyond understanding, they need to feel as if they have influence. My belief is not only based on a suspicion regarding what motivates software engineers, it is primarily based on personal experience.

During the course of discussion, I commented, “regardless of the structure that is chosen for any organizational structure, it is critical to analyze the individuals which participate within that organizational structure. You simply cannot make a decision regarding organizations without an understanding of the impact it has on the individuals”.

Admittedly, the notion is somewhat intuitively obvious. However, I have witnessed many discussions regarding companies, organizations, etc. which simply do not take into consideration what it is that makes the employees do what they do. What makes them tick? While its impossible to generalize across a large organization, everyone is different, it is possible to understand the general effect an organizational structure may have on a team. The first test, simply ask yourself the questions…How would I respond if I were put into a given work structure? How would it feel to transition from collectively owning a product to serving a role in a resource pool? Would you be as motivated and energized?

One Response to What makes them tick?

  1. Israel says:

    I had struggled with the question Paul is bringing up for many years. While I knew I was very proud of my work, I
    did not have a insightful term to describe who I am with
    respect to my work.

    The Cluetrain Manifesto was an eye opener for me. Since I
    read it I clearly consider myself a craftsman. Furthermore,
    I believe craftsmanship is the “secret sauce” that makes teams click. Individuals on the team may, of course, define themselves in many different ways. However, it is the shared
    experience of craftsmanship in the team that makes a decisive difference.

    I have recently attended an Agile conference in which many
    of the participants reported failed attempts to introduce Agile in their companies. My intuitive sense about the episodes that were conveyed to me was that the shared experience was missing. The projects were killed
    before the participants had the time to create a
    meaningful shared experience as craftsmen and galvanize
    around it.

    While I definitely believe one can witness the benefits of Agile within six months, I suspect it takes much longer to create the shared experience. My guess would be it actually takes one to two years to really really really create the so very critical shared experience of craftsmanship.

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