Management Fads

Over at Vox’s there was a post on whether or not “agile” development made it easier for SJW’s to infiltrate an organization.

Now, I know a little programming, but will never claim to be great, and certainly don’t have project-management experience with the pro’s and cons of waterfall vs whatever. What caught my eye was this comment:

“Anyway, I still like agile, but there’s a huge tendency for people to want to say they’re doing agile without understanding any of the points in the manifesto, because they heard that they should be doing agile. Nothing will fix that, but they’d suck no matter what methodology they used.

Reminds me of what happened with the U.S. Navy TQL (Total Quality Leadership) program. The Navy spent millions of dollars training everybody from top to bottom, military and Cvil Service, on the tenets and application of TQL. It was a total waste of time and money. All the bureaucrats did (almost all of them) was to apply the TQL buzzwords to the same old management practices – NOTHING CHANGED IN PRACTICE.

This process of mapping buzzwords from one paradigm to a totally different paradigm allows the bureaucrats to claim that they were now DOING the new paradigm. Sorry, but that’s what they do to avoid having to actually change their practices.

I can speak to that time frame, he is utterly correct.

I was also naive enough to hope that it would make a difference, and looking back, what he pointed out is exactly what happened. Commands slapped the buzzwords onto what they were already fucking up by the numbers and nothing changed. The first hint should have been my own comment to a shipmate, that most of the stuff that we were being told about management is stuff that’s been considered good practice from competent leaders and managers forĀ decades.

That said, one thing that did make sense in isolation was the concept of iterated improvement. It’s a concept that is awesome for a production pipeline – whether factory or starting up a publishing/comic book company. Namely, start with “good enough” doing something sustainable. Look at how each thing you did turned out, figure out a way to make it better. Change a couple things for the better. See how that works. See my earlier story of how Honda got started. This is also how Arkhaven launched Alt-Hero, and you can easily see the improvements between QM#1 and AH2.

It also flies in the face of “do it up to the best standards from the beginning”.

Doesn’t much work for shipboard life though. Changes in the written procedures due to feedback were slow – though a couple did happen. For daily operations and casualty responses, there actually was a feedback system that, at least on the nuke side, already took input from all but the most junior (read – not qualified beyond the most basic bitch watchstation) members of the watchteam – if the command was willing to listen. We’d run what were de-facto role-playing sessions on everything from standard startups to emergency responses to fire and flooding, incorporating mistakes made during drills, and would hash out how to better coordinate and communicate. With a good CO, XO, and ENG, the watchteam could practically dictate its own responses as long as they met the procedural requirements of the carious manuals.

Note “with a good chain of command” – a crappy micromanaging XO, or an Engineer unwilling to push back and defend his scope of authority, or a martinet Engineer, could make life hell, and even trying to make suggestions for making a watchteam work smoother is pointless.

In short, crappy people can take the labels of the best processes, and make them meaningless.

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