09 February 2010

People -vs- Angels

One of the problems with most approaches to optimizing organizational performance (aside from the horrible phrasing) is that they often rely on optimized people. That's insane.

The thing is, stuff is always (always always always) done by people. Not angels. Not machines. People.

People get tired. We get distracted. We misunderstand. We have a bad day. We have counterproductive motives. We are self-serving. We make mistakes.

People also get inspired. We learn. We adapt. We have a great day. We solve old problems in new ways. We are selfless. We make discoveries.

This isn't a contradiction or a paradox. It's just the reality of how people are. And any approach that fails to take these things into account is overlooking the most important aspect of work. It's always all about people.

I've written about this many times before, but I want to hit the topic again. Let me be very explicit here - the FIST approach does not rely on angels, who are perfectly pure in their motives and are perfectly tuned in their capabilities. In fact, FIST is built on an assumption that even the best, most talented people are going to drop the ball sometimes. It's also built on the explicit assumption that they'll pick up the ball and run with it in directions nobody anticipated. FIST asserts that people are both better and worse than we can imagine.

I love to point out that the FIST approach can fail - in fact, it can directly cause failures. So FIST is not about optimizing anything. It's about providing a set of guidelines to help shape decisions that are made by people. So my advice for rogue project leaders is to get the best people you can get. Give them the training, tools & resources they need (but not too much time or money). Stay out of their way as much as possible. Expect them to fail. Expect them to amaze. Everything else is nonsense.


Dick Field said...

This is one of your best postings, Dan, on the human element of RPL and FIST . . . IMHO. It even appeals to The Better Angels of Our Nature!

dad said...

Dan: this is one of your best posts ever (and I've been following your blogs for a long long time)....It appeals (to me) to the spirit-guide part of our personalities... sadly, theory x folks and theory x management types won't like it very much.... theory y folks and management types will just smile and whisper: you go Dan!.... Dad

The Dan Ward said...

Hey, thanks you two! Glad to hear you enjoyed it!

dcwork said...

It's not about optimizing opportunities for learning?