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Without a Defined Process, How Will We Know Who To Blame?

"A fundamental premise of the 'train-wreck' approach to management is that the primary cause of problems is 'dereliction of duty'" said Peter Scholtes in The Leader's Handbook. Under this "management by results" approach, fear of blame drives compliance and performance. Prompted by a discussion on the LeanDevelopment discussion group,  Mary Poppendieck posted a short article, Train-Wreck Management, on process, people and systems. In it she looked at Sholtes' book, Deming, the Toyota Production System (TPS) and how Lean provides an alternative to the culture of blame.

It's tempting to think that formalised collaborative approaches represent a change from "how things have always been done," but the predominant paradigm may not be as old as we think. From the beginning of Poppendieck's article:
As business grew and became geographically disperse in the 1800's, a way to run these businesses had to be found. But there were no models outside the church and the military, so investigators into the train-wreck disaster [of 1841, in New York state] looked to the Prussian army for a model. And there they found the classic organization chart - the one we know so well today. Scholtes calls it the "train-wreck" chart. It was revolutionary at the time.
So, is a heirarchical organisational structure the root of all evil? The article also included an interesting quote from Scholtes:
All of the empowered, motivated, teamed-up, self-directed, incentivized, accountable, reengineered, and reinvented people you can muster cannot compensate for a dysfunctional system.... A well-run organization with well-functioning systems allows people from top to bottom do work of which they can be proud.
Poppendieck's question: "So where does this leave us? Which is more important - process or people?" It looks like the answer might be "both." She concluded:
People like to use effective processes, and they also like to have control over their own environment. The Toyota Production System provides for both. [Taiichi] Ohno made it clear that people must be at the center of improving their own processes.
Apparently, while simply "empowering teams" doesn't seem to be the solution, neither does a focus on pure process, divorced from the people-driven "continuous learning" cycle. Scholtes suggested that corporate attempts to impose certified process improvement programs like ISO 9000 across large organisations may be missing the point. What's missing? Those "home grown," self-organizing aspects that would allow these approaches to evolve and improve teams in different and appropriate ways. From Scholtes' critique:
  • Assessment has a tone of paternalism and mistrust - it replaces internal motivation with external motivation.
  • [Process] certification is not equal to satisfied customers - you can do the wrong thing as long as you do it consistently.
  • A certified process is difficult to change - Ohno would be appalled.
Poppendieck's article is worth reading, particularly for those readers currently contemplating creation of a Lean or Agile Certification program or Agile PMO (Project Management Office).

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