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Repeating software processes. To attract and repel.

Are we attracted to repetition?

Yes.  We all are. It touches every facet of our lives. As a few examples, we eat the same types of foods each week, we watch the same TV series, and we read books that belong to a series. A study and report from Alix Spiegel of NPR captures the power of repetition in music that attracts us. Spiegel reports that “90 percent of the music we listen to is music we’ve heard before. We return again and again to our favorite songs, listening over and over to the same musical riffs, which themselves repeat over and over inside the music..” She then gives the result of a study that shows how people preferred music with repetition over the same song without repetition.

Repetition in Software Development.

Software development has the same draw for repetition. Managers spend time and thought to create a software development lifecycle (SDLC) that fits their company culture and team skill sets. They want something repeatable to drive efficiencies of a process, consistency of work output, and reliability of estimates. These are the attractiven features of a SDLC.

There’s an entire business industry built on repetition in software development. Books, training, and consultants feed us new ideas and different ways to think. But the end game they seek is adoption to a standard method that works within the framework of our business culture. This is all for good reason. As a professional in the world of software development, I recognize that we must be disciplined. I recognize that we have to think and find more efficient ways to produce software so that we can stay competitive and drive results through the business.

But there is a repelling force to repetition as well.

There are two danger zones that software managers should consider with repetition in process. Both of these creep-in an organization silently. Ironically they destroy the very things that repetitive process can build.

  1. Repetition can stagnate creativity. When we follow a script, we don’t think much about the ‘why’. We don’t think about better ways to do things. We just follow the process because someone already did all that thinking. Worst of all is that we don’t see it. We think we are accomplishing our job because we followed the steps.
  2. Repetition can become the end goal. When checking the boxes on the process flow becomes more important than the final product then the process has become the master. If employees are consumed with following every detail of a process and only satisfied when they mark steps as complete then the process has become larger than the importance of the end result. You’ll recognize this in an organization when the meetings about the process outnumber the meetings about the solution, the who, and the why.

Watch for it!

Watch for it in your organization and life. It’s like two magnets with forces that attract and repel. We have to find a way to both pursue and guard against the powers of repetition in the workplace. This means constant examination. It means living with shades of gray within process. It means we need write with a pencil, allowing for a both a sharp and dull point. The eraser is nice to have also.  🙂



Innovation sourced from standard processes?

Innovation from the everyday

Innovation from the everyday

In a MBA class last year I took the following note during a lecture:

Drucker – creativity and innovation driven off standard process

This week I found that note in a review of some materials and thought it would be a good topic for further thought. Peter Drucker lists process need as one of seven sources of innovation in his book Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Drucker’s thought makes sense to me. From experience I know that standard processes tend to grow over time to:

  • Account for items previously not thought of or missed
  • Cover new regulations or contractual obligations
  • Add steps for quality assessment

Standard processes also tend to grow stagnant over time and often lose touch with other changing business forces. When this happens, people feel confined within the boundaries of the process. The worst case scenario is when a customer is confined by rules of a process and it does not meet their needs. See my open letter to cell phone providers for some good examples on standard processes not serving customers.

So when this happens. Innovation sets in because in general people want to help their customers.  Standard processes that block customer focus within an organization are prime candidates for innovative thought. The innovation can help by:

  • Reducing complexity – An example is when theme parks came up with a seasons pass offering. Instead of requiring their customers to pay for each visit, they came up with a process for a single transaction that gave the customer the ability to reduce their payments as well as get a volume discount.
  • Reduce cycle times – The Toyota Production System has received alot of attention based on its ability to reduce the cycle time create a new automobile.
  • Resolving items found in customer feedback – I’d like to think that AT&T rollover minutes came from customer feedback regarding purchasing minutes they did not use.

Do you agree with Drucker? Do we find new innovative ways of thinking while going the everday ho-hum?

Photo credit: http://www.bizextra.biz/files/images/innovation.jpg