Software Delivery Problems? Focus on Relationships Not Process.

Here’s how the situation unfolds. An enterprise company experiences problems with their software development efforts. Software systems are delivered late. They are poor in quality. They lack important features. Or in some cases, they are never delivered at all. What’s the solution? (This is not a quiz!)

Tighten the process! Institute more controls, more metrics, more reviews and more approvals. You’ve heard of “running a tight ship”, right? That will fix it … Or not.

Let’s ignore the effect of all that tightening on team morale and think about the process flow. More management oversight means managers will need to spend more time monitoring projects — they will need to be more involved. That likely means more managers will be needed. More managers means more meetings. More meetings means more administrative things to do. More … you get the idea. More of everything — except productivity.

Here’s the final result.

  • Software systems will still be delivered late (unless schedules are greatly extended) and projects will surely cost more.
  • Quality may improve but only if quality is more important than meeting dates (unlikely).
  • Important features won’t get missed or forgotten but they will still be dropped to “get back on schedule”.
  • And, yes, some projects will still never be delivered at all because all those managers won’t agree on specifics.
  • Oh! And one more thing…there will be increased infighting and political battles resulting in poor morale and lost productivity.

Moral of the story: Throwing more process at a broken process introduces more break points.

You need to look at a broken process completely differently. Instead of asking, “What changes can we make to the process?”, ask, “Why is the process broken?” and “What caused it to break?”. Most often you’ll find that relationships are broken. Failed relationships cause processes to fail. Tightening the process does nothing to address the relationships that form the foundation for any process.

If those relationships remain broken, no process changes will ever fix the problems of late, poor and missed deliveries.

Fixing relationships can be difficult but it has to be done. Start by initiating a conversation among the stakeholders. Ask what each stakeholder needs from the software and the process. Then listen, really listen. If someone feels he/she has been wronged, apologize. Don’t be proud, just do it.

Relationships are built on trust. Work on rebuilding and strengthening trust. Collaborate more, don’t just communicate. (Copying someone on routine email messages or status memos is not collaborating. It’s throwing information over the wall.)

Once those relationships have improved, assess the development process with an eye toward simplifying and decentralizing it. Process should help people get their jobs done. As soon as it starts to get in the way, you’ve gone too far.

photo credit: lumaxart via photopin cc

Updated: November 7, 2012 — 10:28 pm