Saturday, December 08, 2007

The People are the Product - Part 1: Momentum

Long before the birth of the Internet, Peter Drucker foresaw the growing prominence of "knowledge work" and the changes required by management and leadership to harness this potential. Many of these principles apply directly to the software development industry.

When it comes to "Software Engineering", Alastair Cockburn states: "People are Active Devices"

People have lots of interesting characteristics, and we don't know what they are - which makes it all the more absurd that we try to define methodologies and processes that incorporate them.
Software Development as a Cooperative Game - Alastair Cockburn
In knowledge work, the people are the product. It is their potential that creates the possible future, and sustainable value. They are dynamic knowledge repositories and sustainable intellectual property creators. Although the products produced by these individuals and teams represent realizable value, they have a very limited half-life, depreciating rapidly if no additional innovation is applied.

Instead of treating software development and knowledge work as a reducible process, we begin to understand that the priority for leadership is to maximize the potential of each contributor. This requires:
  • Understanding how people are individually motivated
  • Respecting people and developing a culture of trust
  • Helping people discover their potential
  • Recognizing contribution at an individual and team level
Interestingly, we already apply many of these management principles when building effective sales and marketing organizations. The challenge is taking these leadership approaches and using them to foster innovation in what is often viewed as "predictable" knowledge work.

Thankfully, success stories are emerging from the industry that provide crucial learning for the rest of us. I'll cover some of these in upcoming posts...

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