02 November 2010

It's People, Not Machinery

Before we learned Toyota doesn't know jack about software, the software community embraced Lean Manufacturing hoping to mimic Toyota's legendary quality & efficiency.


In her post Creating a Mess by "Eliminating Waste, Esther Derby reminds me how principles built on assembly line manufacturing efficiencies don't necessarily translate to people-centric businesses like software.
...any tool can and will be misapplied. This is especially true when a tool is plucked from one context and applied in another and when the use of the tool is divorced from the thinking and philosophy behind the tool. ~Esther Derby
Bill Clinton's advisor James Carville coined the phrase
It's the economy, stupid.
In the same vein, I advance a rule of thumb about the making and consuming of software:
It's people, not machinery.
The simplest caution I offer is "…start by understanding", not by applying the tired bromides of manufacturing efficiency.

Lean's three-legged stool of waste, overburden, & workload unevenness are more readily measured and tweaked in the context of machines and assembly lines — not so easily with people.

Yvon Chouinard, founder & visionary behind the outdoor equipment company Patagonia, has a mantra "Let my people go surfing" which is shorthand for
My business is focused on the fulfillment of my employees, and by extension, the fulfillment of my customers.
Encouraging your teammates to ditch work when the surf's up is distinctly not a production-driven view that activity equals cost.

I cringe when referred to as a resource. I'm not a lump of coal to be burned. The phrase "efficient use of resources" is much less offensive to me when applied to carbon-based fuel than when applied to people.
Over-clocking a CPU & demanding higher output from people probably doesn't overlap on any Venn diagram.
If it’s your job to nag me to cut waste, I'm left to wonder how and why you exist.

As a teammate, you may lean on me. But as a misguided efficiency weenie, please don't Lean on me.