Your Culture Dictates What you Can Improve

In the previous segment, I mentioned three different areas of focus for productivity improvement:

System: The software being built
Process: How the software gets built (notionally refers to the type of development methodology being followed, but in reality describes the culture around the team and the process the team actually follows)
Customer: The purpose behind the software; and who the software is being built for.

Changing any of these requires understanding your enterprise’s culture intimately.

I once worked with a large defense contractor, and the team had been tasked with improving the performance of the application. The conventional wisdom was that performance would be improved if all of the tickets in the backlog were completed. Now, you and I know this wouldn’t have guaranteed application performance improvement at all, and it certainly wouldn’t guarantee customer happiness. But, it’s a metric the customer could see, and stood in as a proxy for success.

The culture was such that doing what was actually necessary to improve the application’s performance was out of scope. The application essentially needed a complete rewrite. Its assumptions were invalid, and it took 10 years for the customer to realize it. But, for historical reasons, the customer was loathe to rewrite it and the defense contractor was not going to suggest that, with good reason. I foolishly advocated for a targeted rewrite of the transport and presentation layers, and was politely told ‘no’.

I learned from this exchange (and probably would have realized it sooner if I had paid closer attention) that the System itself was not in scope for change according to the culture of the organization. But, as I would find out later, I could improve delivery and customer satisfaction by changing how the software was delivered to the customer. This floored me. We couldn’t port the software to the web, but we could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an unproven technology by a proven vendor to deliver the software over the web (Microsoft RemoteApp), and the customer was happy about it!

The culture of the company dictated which lever I could pull.

Do you find yourself running into roadblocks when you suggest process improvements? Delivery improvements? If so, it might be that your culture doesn’t allow for that lever to be pulled. Find another lever, and try to pull that one.

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