Sunday, October 9, 2011

In the Ballpark is OK, Right?

I couldn't let this one go, this is another one of Aaron Scott's Two Leaf Clover cartoons, and the more I looked at it, the more endeared to it I became.

We like to believe that we live in a world where results matter, where we are rewarded for doing a good job, where we get props for doing the right things. Yet so often we find ourselves looking at solutions that really aren't all that impressive, that miss the mark, that don't do what we want them to, an we justify or find ways to say "well, yeah, but this happened or this happened" and then we muddle along.

Too often, I think we find ourselves in ossified structures not so much because we strive to be there, but because somehow, over time, the need to follow through with the program or guidance we were given to solve a problem introduces so many others. I remember when ISO 9001 was all the rage in the early 90s. I watched as my company went all out to satisfy the requirements of it. We all got trained on the way to do things, we all got to be experts at new documentation standards, and we all copied and pasted our updates to fill the requirements. The document reviews would come back with "not detailed enough, make sure you provide more detail" for things I knew we would never do, and even if we did, would add little to the value of what we were doing. It felt like dotting the i's and crossing the t's were the important activities. doing the real innovative work seemed to be secondary.

Yes, we met the requirements, and yes, we were able to do business in Europe, and that added tremendously to our bottom line... but I also remember the company we were before all that. Nimble, quickly maneuverable, dare I say... agile, before the term was used for a software development movement. In many ways, the company grew up an played with the big boys, but a lot of the agility (in the economy of quick movement) was lost, and thus the ability to hit the target was impaired. It's not that we didn't hit the target more times than not (we grew tremendously during that decade) but I think it was in spite of the process changes, not because of them. Later on, I did see the process become a hindrance an heard complaints about how hard it was to move "the mothership" because it had gotten "too big".

Part of the reason I like working with smaller companies today is the ability for those smaller companies to move, to be able to take advantage of an opportunity, and to more often than not hit the target. It's also more fun when there's little in the way of you doing it. In a small company, when you hit a target, you rightly cheer. When you don't you shrug, recalibrate and try again, usually quickly, because if you don't, well, your small company will go under. Maybe that's why the Rebel Alliance was able to take out more Imperial Stormtroopers than vice versa :).

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