Break New Ground

Wielding the Carrot and the Stick

Bob Rhubart
Community Manager, Oracle Groundbreakers Team

Part of the SOA Governance @ Work series

While noodling around the A2A blogs I found this bit of wisdom quoted in one of Steve Bennett's old posts:

“Hope is not a viable SOA strategy.”

I don't know the original source of that quote, but it's worth printing on a t-shirt, or maybe a tattoo.  Because in order to make SOA work, hope will get you only so far. You need governance, and any good SOA governance program has to include effective incentives.

The term "SOA governance" covers a lot of territory, but it ultimately comes down to the measures an organization takes to insure that its SOA does what it's supposed to do. In this blog and elsewhere you've no doubt read that SOA governance must involve people, process, and technology. Guess which of the three represents the biggest SOA governance challenge?

Hint: It's the only one that gets depressed.

In any organization, the transformation to SOA can represent significant changes in roles and responsibilities. Some people resist that change, in much the same way a lobster resists being plunged into boiling water with a dash of salt and maybe a lemon slice.

That attitude is just plain silly. SOA governance won't turn your exoskeleton bright red and render what's inside snowy-white and succulent. Still, getting people to go along with SOA governance measures is not an easy sell.

Mike Stamback recalls a presentation this past summer when Gartner analyst Paolo Malinverno asked his audience for a show of hands of those who believe that governance is essential to SOA success. The response was unanimous -- every hand went up. Malinverno then asked who wanted to be governed. Every hand went down.

So even among a bunch of people who recognize and understand the need for SOA governance, there were no volunteers.  Imagine that.

"Voluntary governance doesn't work,"  Mike advises. "You will get spotty adoption and then only parts of your SOA implementation are under control."

So what works?  A carrot? A stick? What about Tasers?

Mike describes how one BEA Oracle customer in Europe uses the stick approach. Compliance with the SOA governance process is a condition of employment. That's about as ambiguous as a roundhouse kick to the face, but it's effective. Another customer uses a carrot, in this case monetary incentives for those who comply with the governance process.  Nice, but there's a downside: there are no repercussions for those who choose not to comply.

Mike believes that the best approach combines the carrot and the stick. For instance, those who follow governance processes are rewarded with future project funding. Those who thumb their noses at SOA and governance risk having their project funding yanked.

A combined approach, Mike explains, can also include enough flexibility to allow those who elect not to follow a process to defend their actions. If the offenders can make a compelling case, the flawed governance process can be modified. This approach allows SOA governance to evolve in a controlled manner, which is important, given the continued evolution of the SOA and everything else. Governance should be tough, but it should also be reasonable.

In a recent InfoWorld Webcast,  the head of the global SOA program for an international financial services organization explained how that organization has implemented its version of the carrot-and-stick approach.

As part of its SOA program, the company's mandatory project funding form has been updated to include line items that ask whether the project will create reusable SOA services, or reuse existing services.  Every project is then subject to the approval of a representative of the SOA program, who is armed, figuratively, with a stick: projects that will create and/or reuse SOA services have a much better shot at approval.

The carrot, in this case, involves the annual performance plans for all of the company's IT employees. These plans include goals based on the creation and reuse of SOA services. In order to help employees meet these goals, the company provides SOA training courses to insure that everyone understands what the program is, how it works, and what its goals are. However, failure to attend these courses comes back to haunt the absentees when annual bonuses are handed out. As the program's project head describes in the Webcast, those who bail on the training get hit where it counts -- right in the wallet. With the carrot, apparently.

Whatever works. And based on the information presented in the Webcast, this company's SOA program appears to do just that.

Check out the entire InfoWorld Webcast -- it's good stuff.

In future posts we'll look at other aspects of SOA governance incentives, including steps you can take to make it easy for people to do the things they should be doing. 


Previous posts in the SOA Governance@Work series:


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