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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Software for Your Head 1

As we prepare for our “Simple Rules and Tools for Great Teams” Immersion (aka McCarthy Technologies's BootCamp) I re-read the foundational book “Software for Your Head” (online version). I think of it as the book based on the “movie” the team is about to make in the immersion simulation.

The authors, Jim and Michele McCarthy, set the stage for the development of the Core Protocols for great teams in the book with the following story.

I always find myself transported into this story as the central character, agreeing ferociously with his thinking having been there so often in the past. I hope you will resonate with it too.

From page 4 on:

Imagine a team at the beginning of a new project.

Pretend this team is having a meeting. A kickoff meeting for a new product team members have been asked to build. And you—because of your experience with so many teams over so many years here; because you’ve been to so many kick-offs; because you’ve seen what was the greatest that happened here, and the absolutely not-so-great so many times; because you have worked shoulder-to-cubicle with many of the people on this team; because you have fought for quality so noisily and so consistently, for so long, even though the victories were minor and infrequent; because you are a good thinker and a sensitive person; because you are now finally a bit more accepted by senior management; and because you have shown your loyalty, they feel, and show some promise as a more senior mentor—have been asked to observe this team at this meeting at the beginning of this new product creation effort.

It is a meeting more like other meetings than unlike them. For the most part, the atmosphere is like the dozens of other project starts: There’s a drop of hope to go around, and a squirt of suspended disbelief (maybe this time things will actually go right), and a dollop or two of slippery new belief in the promise of the rare blank sheet, of the chance to do it right this time. Of course, there is the old bucket of dilute scars and cynical vapor being pumped into the air by that whining dehumidifier, and the great pool of dispassion is nearby, too (gets a lot of use). But there’s some of it all, anyway, in the usual proportions.

Dampened by these ambient team fluids, the team members are discussing many things at this kick-off meeting: process, schedule, costs, risks, competition, time lines, and the like. Company politics. The expected disputes are here, contained within the acceptable bounds of conflict, but left mostly unresolved. Handled so-so, but as per usual. You readily discern the rivalries, the alliances. You can feel the newbies’ poorly hidden excitement and fear, and you can smell the repressed hope of the cynics. Your mind drifts in and out of the meeting when the classic technical issues, the old standbys, resurface for another great gulp of communal airtime. Hello, old friends. We’ll discuss you inconclusively once again, once again.

One thing gets you thinking. You notice that the vision behind the product is mentioned only in passing. You see that any discussions about purpose here are strictly pro forma, dispassionate. Technicalities and the usual resource constraints are the real bread and butter of the discussion, the things people care about, fight about. To the extent they care about anything, you think, they care mostly about the things that they believe stop them. They’re creating some sort of blame scenario out of real and imagined deprivations— in advance. It’s like shaking rattles at the evils beyond their control. Go away, bad gods. But they always win, don’t they, if you believe in them at all. That’s why they’re there. To win.

My, but you’re feeling anthropological today, aren’t you? Is it maybe the presence of the cynics nee idealists? Does it touch you somehow?”

I'm pausing here to let us both carry on with our lives. Please let me know when you are ready to continue. More to come!

1 comment:

Luke said...

Yes, I love that story too. Great stuff.