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The Preservation Trap Steals Productivity and Depletes Morale

Have you ever noticed that start-up companies have a sense of urgency while established companies have a sense of preservation?

It makes sense when you think about it. Start-ups have nothing to lose. They have little or nothing to preserve. They need to build something and get it out into their target markets. Only then can they accumulate knowledge, processes, documents, inventory, skills, etc. that are worth preserving.

On the other hand, established companies have much to lose. They need to protect what they’ve accumulated and not disrupt their normal operations. Urgency often takes a back seat to preservation.

Software development teams fall into the preservation trap too. Established teams have a lot to preserve and protect. Here are a few examples:

  • Software architecture
  • Development process
  • Existing documents
  • Team member roles and titles
  • Work habits

There’s nothing wrong with a strong sense of preservation — protecting your team. Problems arise when the sense of preservation becomes more important than building great software systems, rapidly. This will eventually have an adverse impact on team morale and productivity.

The best way to overcome the sense of preservation is to create a sense of urgency. Get the team excited about delivering something new and different. Challenge them to reach further and hit stretch goals.

Make sure you can justify the urgency. The team will see right through any artificial or contrived “urgent” needs. You don’t want to instill fear or panic. You want to motivate, energize and create excitement. How? Consider these example goals:

  • Beat a competitive product — be specific about which product and what needs to be better
  • Outperform a competitive service — again which service and what aspects of it
  • Increase profits — by how much?
  • Reduce expenses — which expenses and by how much?
  • Improve the revenue stream — increase existing revenue or add new revenue?
  • Enter a new market — be specific about the target
  • Land a major new customer — who and why?
  • Win a new contract — which one and why?

You’ll note that I made no mention of adding software features, improving quality, or reducing time to market. None of those represent an ultimate goal. The goal needs to focus on the business and financial outcomes. This will energize everyone in the company, not just the software developers.

Do you arrive at work on most days with a sense of urgency or preservation? Let me know.

photo credit: Mait Jüriado via photo pin cc

Updated: August 10, 2012 — 9:51 pm
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