Saturday, August 17, 2013

How NOT to Motivate your Organization to Perform

The TED Talk video by Dan Pink (at the bottom of this post) reinforces a few things that I've witnessed in doing Agile consulting and it validates many of the Agile values around roles and responsibilities.

I did a technical training in Test Driven Development (TDD) and Refactoring to a group of highly skilled software engineers at a client in Shanghai. The engineers were grouped into pairs and were each implementing a set of features using TDD. Things were moving at a steady pace. With 2 hours left in the day, the attendee's energy was dropping so I offered a 200RMB (abt. $30 but really $200 in spending power) reward to the pair that could get a the functionality finished AND could pass my 3 bug injection tests (to see if they had good unit test coverage--did good TDD). The room was electrified at the announcement and the teams of two become very focused. At the end, I didn't have to pay out although one pair was pretty damn close.

What was reported at the end as interesting: the carefully refactored and well designed code became hacked and sloppy in effort to quickly finish the job. After watching the Dan Pink talk about the Candle Game, I wonder if some would have finished if I hadn't offer the incentive.

Dan's talk hits themes of how traditional management of carefully tracking workers and stepping in isn't as productive as slackening the reins and creating an environment of self direction. After all, software engineers are highly educated people. It's sad to see how management sometimes steps in their way and makes technical decisions for them.

A colleague and I argue about whether Scrum's Chicken and Pigs roles ( do more damage than help. I say it depends. If management has a habit of doing micro management about how code is developed, then there will be waste made in bad decisions or time lost in Scrum meetings being taken over by well meaning but over-reaching management. It's like the Feds overstepping their boundaries into State and county areas. The Chicken and Pigs model stops this, sometimes creating a different kind of damage but I feel it's necessary to swing the pendulum the other way for a year or so until management and development (in the Agile world, this includes test) better understand the boundaries of what decisions are technical and what decisions are business. Mixing these together creates as much waste as a baseball game where the pitcher is also playing third base and giving orders (as opposed to advice) to the outfield.