Henry Gantt

Gantt charts are a lagging indicator of dysfunction, specifically a lack of trust within an organization. When used as a planning tool, they’re fine. When used as a tool for “accountability”, they become the proverbial canary in your software coalmine.

TBM 39B/52: Crawl, Walk, Run, and the Fragility of Frameworks

It is natural, in this situation, to opt to deploy a framework. But not just any framework. You want a framework that describes what people should do when they should do it, and how they should do it. Why? Process conformance is your only lever. That way, you can tell your customer that they “didn’t do it” when things go wrong. The framework is entirely artificial. No healthy and experienced team works this way or learns this way. But the framework provides a level of control, marketability, legitimacy, and deniable culpability.

Most frameworks don’t come with a warning label like:

This framework is synthetic. It was designed to be “foolproof” and adoptable under less-than-ideal conditions. Under different conditions, your team could learn much faster, so don’t infantilize your team. Doing this framework “well” is not a prerequisite for doing well.

No. Sadly, most frameworks evolve a narrative that comes something like this:

You need to crawl, walk, and run. You need to do this framework precisely as prescribed to get better. If it isn’t working for you, it is your fault, not the framework’s fault. If anything, this framework will EXPOSE the problems in your company. Any criticism of the framework is null and void.

The most harmful byproduct is that:

Companies perceive the challenge as one of adopting the framework instead of creating conditions similar to healthy companies (or other learning situations). They blame their teams for being slow to figure the framework out when things aren’t working. Frameworks become their crutch.

Instead of introspection, a leader will likely buy into the whole story of their team being babies learning how to walk. The irony is that it is the leader who needs to improve.

We start to believe the frameworks represent the ideal instead of being wholly artificial “hacks” for less-than-optimal situations.

Be skeptical of frameworks. And be skeptical of explanations like “crawl, walk, run” that infantilize people and don’t describe healthy adult learning environments.

TBM 38/52: Navigating the Product Leadership Fog:

What do I think is going on?

The strategic thinkers in your company (VPs and below) are wondering if there is a corporate strategy. They see plans and priorities and know that isn’t a strategy.

Some are trying to fill what they see as the void
Some are checking out (going through the motions)
Some are in blame mode…blaming leaders, each other
Some are leaving

The get-it-done thinkers (at all levels) are thinking “leadership just keeps changing priorities”. They sense something is off. They see plans and priorities and think “great, now we have alignment!” But anyone who has been there for a while is skeptical.

Some of them are trying to fill a void in terms of planning
Some are checking out (going through the motions)
Some are in blame mode…blaming leaders, each other
Some are leaving

…the strategic thinkers and get-it-done thinkers have similar/different needs…Both want coherence, but different types of coherence

The strategic thinkers want a sense of (and contribute to) the current thinking
The get-it-done thinkers want a sense of the stable problems they can solve

Then acknowledge that the big problem is…

Degrading trust levels
Degrading psychological safety levels
Good people leaving

These problems are far more dangerous than you think.

This is an ongoing topic on this website. In the past I’ve quoted Agile as Trauma here:

There exists many a corner office whose occupant, if forced to choose, will take an absence of surprises over a substantive outcome.

…and Marty Cagan here:

I certainly understand the attraction of scaling with process, and the hunger for a framework or some form of “recipe for success” at scale. But that’s just not the reality in good companies. The truth is that product leadership is hard.

So this is a difficult problem, but why? And why do so many people in business get it wrong?

One reason is that building an effective organization is complex and multivariant. Few people have the broad experience required to build an effective organization. Most business leaders had, or stumbled upon, a reasonably good idea that had product-market fit, and started building. Scaling the organization required to sustain that idea as it spreads and grows is not in their wheelhouse.

Another reason is simple emotional fortitude. All humans make decisions through an emotional lens and few humans have the tools to tune that lens in constructive ways. Running a business is an inherently risky affair, fraught with anxiety, betrayal, and disappointment. We’re more likely to build defenses against these experiences than we are to accept and learn from them. The affect landscape of running a business is an inherently trust-eroding one if one does not lean on their better angels.

A final reason is that businesses succeed despite these shortcomings. Product-market fit is by far the biggest component to a business’s success, to the extent that even incredibly poorly-run businesses can succeed. There are other such components, and even luck, that matter more than one’s software development processes.

So now what?

Applicable laws:

Hofstadter’s law

Hofstadter’s Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.

Goodhart’s law

Any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes.

Campbell’s law

The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.

From The ‘awful idea of accountability’: inscribing people into the measurement of objects (which I’m working on archiving here)

Accountability is more than, indeed systematically different from, responsibility. The latter entails, literally, being liable to answer for duties defined as yours. Responsibility implies stewardship, the proper conserving and use of those things charged to you, whether by an owner, a sovereign, or a metaphysical authority such as God, orthe people. Responsibility entails the discharge of one’s charge: it demands a reckoning, and in that sense an accounting for how you have conserved and used the things with which you have been charged (whether they be goods, money or powers). Its technical accounting form is therefore the ancient charge/discharge system of stewardship, which can be found as far back as ancient Egypt.

Accountability, on the other hand, is in its operation and scope more totaland insistent. Not only are duties specified, but the means of evaluating the level of their performance is already prescribed, in implicit or explicit norms, standards and targets of performance; wherefore surveillance over and judgement of performance isvastly widened and deepened. One is no longer just a steward of goods, monies or powers, answerable for past performance and present circumstance. Accountability ranges more freely over space and time, focusing as much on future potential as on past accomplishment, connecting and consolidating performance reports to plans and forecasts. As it does so, accountability in all its processes engages the self more insistently in the successful accomplishment of what is demanded over time and space.

The difference, one might say, is that with accountability there is no longer a simple relay of charge and discharge. Its reach runs both vertically and horizontally, up hierarchies and across boundaries: its presence is more extensive and continuous. For example, in the modernist accounting world, this reach operates through the linked apparatuses of management accounting, financial reporting and auditing, in all their variants. Accountability therefore subsumes much that goes under the label of responsibility, but goes further. If responsibility entails being answerable to questions, then accountability does not so much dispense with questions as provide implicit answers to questions not-yet-dreamt-of. The constant mutual implication of standard, actual and forecast measures of performance means that what is currently invisible may subsequently become visible. Not only new targets but new kinds of targets may at any moment get constructed out of the debris of past success and failure. The ‘awful idea of accountability’ as one of the first recorded usages of that term, around 1800, presciently names it, is therefore a system threatening continual potential failure, even for those who are consistently successful.

TBM 37/52: (Dis)incentives

When I chat with leaders, and they mention incentives, I always ask about disincentives.

They talk about wanting to incentivize more collaboration, and meanwhile, there’s barely a free moment on anyone’s calendar. They talk about wanting to incentivize more experimentation. Meanwhile, there are dozens of disincentivizes to experiment (e.g., no help with experiment design, hard deadlines).

It’s like focusing on rewarding someone for doing a workout vs. making it easier for them to get out the door in the morning. One approach focuses on rewards. The other approach focuses on creating space and making it easy.

I’m sure this sounds trivial. But it amazes me how many leaders believe that the flaw is in the reward structure, not the environment and support structure.

Good things can happen when you make it easier to do good things.

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