Methodologies, Processes and the Silver Bullet
By Bob Hueston on Dec 19, 2006
Processes are imposed from above; methodlogies are adopted from below.
Processes are obeyed; methodologies are adhered to, sometimes religiously.
Processes are onerous; methodologies are liberating.
Processes are often circumvented; methodologies are staunchly defended.
But I think the basic difference is:
Processes are someone else's methodologies.
If the government had only devised a methodology instead of a process for paying taxes, people would be wearing tee-shirts extolling the virtues of the "IRS Methodology".
The Silver Bullet
A couple of years ago I was fortunate to attend a presentation by Sarah Sheard, Chief Technologist of the Systems Engineering, Systems and Software Consortium. The presentation was entitled "Systems Engineering and Silver Bullets" which told a "fable" that went something like this:
The CEO of a company is unhappy with all of the existing methodologies and decides to come up with a methodology that uniquely works for his company. He involves his managers and employees to come up with this new process. Productivity and morale skyrockets.
Several other companies are impressed by the increased productivity. They dispatch senior managers to study the new methodology, and carefully adapt it to their own companies. These companies see positive improvement, thus confirming the new methodology
Many more companies decide to adopt the new method. They assign middle managers to implement the new methodology, as best they can, in a short period of time, knowing only what they've read in articles. Managers, in turn, force the changes onto their employees without accepting feedback. Improvements are marginal, and morale sinks.
The lack of gains and decrease in morale are cited as examples that the new methodology does not work. Books are written debunking the new methodolgy.
The executive of another company is unhappy with the methodology and decides to come up with a methodology that uniquely works for his company...
[A more complete version of the fable can be found at http://www.stsc.hill.af.mil/Crosstalk/2003/07/sheard.html.]
The moral of the story is obvious -- there is no silver bullet, no single methodology or process which will improve efficiency at every organization. A methodology must be embraced from the top of the organization to the bottom, and care must be taken to taylor any methodoogy to the organization, based on measurable performance improvements and individual feedback. Only then will a methodology really be successful. On the other hand, if you buy a book on a methodology and force people to follow it, you will probably fail.
I have seen this many times -- what works for one organization does not work for another; this can even be true for two workgroups in the same company. Methodologies must not be rigid; they must allow for tayloring to an organization, and to workgroups within an organization.
Copyright 2006, Robert J. Hueston. All rights reserved