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02 May 2006

Extreme Management, investment in people

In my earlier post on extreme management (XM) I mentioned there weren't many books on it.

However, Kent Beck's reference work "Extreme Programming Explained" is about more than just programming. It isn't just about software engineering either (documentation, analysis, design, code, test, deployment, support, close).

Much of the book covers the extreme team and roles within it such as the customer, coach, tracker and also the more managerial activities such as management strategy and business issues. However, these are still written from the point of view of people in a small team working alongside the extreme programmers.

Taking a step back, if the principles of XP work for programming, what about the other aspects of running a company which have nothing to do with programming? What about the levels of management in a Big Company that are 2 or 3 levels removed from the programmers? Would a board meeting work as an agile scrum rather than a long meeting with lots of nice executive food laid on? It might even decrease boring meetings with buzzword bingo the main entertainment.

Could XP work for sales, marketing or business development? I'm sure it would shake up Dilbert's view of some senior managers..

Let's look at some of the principles and characteristics of XP and rather than thinking about programmers, see if they could also be applied to other departments and/or senior managers:

  1. Incremental planning. Flexible scheduling

  2. Lightweight, efficient, low-risk, adaptable, fun.

  3. Able to try things out and get results back quickly in response to business needs

  4. Relies on good, frequent interaction. Close collaboration and regular meetings.

  5. Relies on the four values of communication, feedback, simplicity and courage.

This looks to me like a set of attributes that are relevant for everyone in a company. XP in a company is like the company's attitude to quality, voice of the customer, or employee development. It works best when the whole company has the same work ethic.

So if you see your management team locked in a room for hours or days doing waterfall development for a business plan, why not suggest that a small incremental change to the business plan every week might work better than a big bang approach every 2 years? Their programmers might be able to teach them a thing or two as well. XP Knowledge can spread upwards.

I like an advert that's running in Computing at the moment which says "Meet the CEO of cubicle 36". In XM, everyone is a CEO, all that changes is the size of technical, financial or business responsibility that you are CEO for. Everyone does a much more similar job and there is more crossover between skills in different departments. Great if you like engaging your whole brain sometimes rather than just the techy bit.
This isn't really new however, it was a work ethic I picked up at Digital where in my first job I was given significant responsibility dealing with the company's biggest customers worldwide and authorising their networks for connectivity to public networks. Management empowerment can spread downwards.

In the XM world, it isn't just empowerment that sweeps down an organisation though, it's the cross sharing of knowledge across departments. Did you know for instance that the financial formulae that your financial director uses to make decisions can be applied to a small software team? You might have heard of Net Present Value and Internal Rate of Return (IRR) for calculating whether to embark on a project, but the same formulae can be used to estimate the financial benefit of any work task, such as "having an offsite meeting" "conducting market research" "attending a conference" and so on. Skills and knowledge of the problems and solutions can circulate.

By spreading the work skills around an organisation and managing empowered people, not only does the organisation as a whole start using its whole brain but the transitions in terms of responsibility up the corporate ladder become less severe in terms of either "technical" or "managerial". This in turn allows for smoother career transitions and promotions, more opportunities and greater staff retention.

People are a company's #1 asset. That #1 asset also leaves the building each night, a risky prospect for any asset manager. If everyone feels they are their own CEO, not only will they likely enjoy their jobs more but will have invested in its people and gained their respect.

Perhaps XP will come to mean eXtreme People rather than just programmers.

Craig (CEO of this blog)

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