27 February 2010

Simplicity Friday: Trust

Oops - this was supposed to get posted yesterday, but apparently I failed to click the right button or something. Here it is, a day late.

Leading a system development project is ultimately about people. It's about how you treat people, and we might even say it's about love. And along with loving the people on your team, I suggest that trusting them is pretty important.

For example, despite what we've all heard about assumptions, I contend it's important to make several key assumptions about the people around you. I find great value in assuming they are honest and competent. If you assume the people around you are not honest or not competent, um, you're hanging with the wrong crowd (and frankly, you're probably wrong about their honesty & competence). In fact, I'll even suggest that the ability to make these assumptions about people is a key competency for project leaders. Let me be blunt: if you can't trust people, find a different line of work.

Yes, yes, it's important to test and confirm these assumptions. Sometimes you'll be proven wrong - dishonest & incompetent people exist, and you're bound to run in to a few eventually. Sometimes, you'll get burned. But the going in position in any encounter must (MUST MUST MUST) be to trust the honesty and competence of the human being across the table. Because if you start out distrusting, you're going to burn yourself even worse (and probably won't even recognize you're hoisting yourself on your own petard). For a more rigorous description of this argument, check out a 2004 article I wrote titled The Program Manager's Dilemma. Or read just about anything on the topic of McGregor's Theory X and Theory Y.

Why mention this on Simplicity Friday? Well, it turns out trust is much simpler than the byzantine monitoring structures we establish to determine compliance. So if you want to simplify your organization, your process, your interactions with people and your procedural structures, think trust. It works - trust me. :)

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