Have Compassion

Today I was in a meeting with business and technology folks, and I started talking about customer collaboration over contract negotiation. (Many will recognize this line from the Agile Manifesto.)

I talked about how there is distrust, tension and misunderstanding between the business side and the technology side. Well, at least on Day One, every client I walk into. YMMV. With luck, we start building trust right away.

In thinking about this on the plane back home, I wanted to say something to those 12 people. Since they are not with me now, I will say it to you.

Have compassion.

What do I mean by that really?

First, if you understand them, they might take the time to understand you. More specifically, it is not about you. It is about doing for others, most especially for the end customer.

Let me introduce my second point with a story. When I teach Agile I like to start with the story of the 6 Blind Men and the Elephant. I won’t explain that story now, but one reason I like it is because that story is also related to Buddha. The compassionate Buddha, as he is known. Buddha had great compassion for us, and our inability to comprehend all the knowledge we needed to know, and to figure out what is really important. We team members should have compassion for each other and how hard our work is, and how much we need to learn. We try to solve the problems, and do it with a system that is abstracted and non-concrete in the extreme, and all the easy projects have already been done — difficult work. We need compassion.

My third point is more specific. My experience is that most technology folks have no conception of how difficult it is for the business folks to see and be accurate about what it takes satisfy the customers. The customers are changing, the competitors are changing, they don’t have time to understand what is do-able. This is extremely difficult work; only a few are truly insightful. (In our economy, many are modestly lucky.)

On the other hand, the business folks need to have more compassion for the technology guys. Technology work is extremely challenging, and offers great opportunities for creativity and discovery for those business folks willing to travel those seas, and capable of escaping the dense fogs.

My fourth point starts with Deming, who has many valuable insights. Deming said that all problems in business are caused, in simple terms, by two things: “the system” and “the people” (vices, true inability, fundamental laziness, etc.). The “system” is all the things that are (or are not) there to structure the people and the work to get the work done. Initially he guessed that 80% of problems were caused by the system and 20% by people. As he grew older and learned more, he revised that. I think he finally said that 95% of problems are caused by the system and only 5% by the people. A leader’s job is to get the system improved.

My point here is that, while you may be frustrated in some ways with your colleagues, most of your frustration is not about them, but about how “management” (maybe yourselves) have structured the system — through and in which you work together (or not together).

Have compassion. Have patience. Start improving it today, step by step.



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