People need processes; processes are for people

July 19, 2010 at 10:08 am | Posted in Blogroll, Practice Excellence, Software Engineering, Systems Improvement, Systems Thinking | Leave a comment

Edward De Bono is well known for lateral thinking. Currently, I am reading his book “Think” where he makes a strong and passionate case for encouraging creative thinking. Throughout the book, he keeps stressing on the theme that “logical thinking is excellent but not enough”. Logical thinking works very well where we are concerned with inanimate objects and systems. It has been the main driving force behind spectacular scientific advances in last couple of centuries. But it has also led to a belief that it is good enough in every field including human systems. Human beings are complex and so are the human systems. They have dimensions which either we are not aware of or we do not know enough about. Hence there is need to supplement logical thinking with creative thinking.

Software development is very much a human system. Software is created by people for use by people. Even in situations where other automated systems use the software, it is the people who decide how it will be used. So there is a need for both the logical thinking and creative thinking. Success of logical thinking in other fields has led to complacency that processes are enough and people are just resources. Of course people need processes for activities which are well established. Without them we will keep on reinventing the wheel. Without them we would never be able to achieve the predictability & efficiency which is essential for timely delivery of quality software within cost. However, if we believe that processes are independent of people and are enough to keep things going, it is a dangerous assumption because it leads to the conclusion that we need to control them to the predefined state. If we find a deviation, we make attempts to remove or at least reduce it. This approach has two problems.

  • We will not be able to adjust to the changes in the environment fast enough
  • We will not use full creative potential of the people involved

Processes are for people, they do not exist in isolation. This approach changes the way in which processes would be defined, reviewed and kept updated for the benefit of the people. It would help people respect the processes as well as question them when they are not working for them.

There is another aspect which the author has brought out in the book. It is that there is too much emphasis on problem solving. Result is that If there is no problem, no thought is applied to still look for alternatives some of which may be even better than the current way of doing things. This requires creative thinking. It requires a different attitude. It requires willingness to try new things or new ways of doing existing things. Some of them may fail; but that’s okay. It requires questioning the existing perceptions which is not easy. It involves changing existing habits; which also is not easy. As they say “old habits die hard”. At a deeper level it requires not taking oneself too seriously.

These are some of the thoughts that come up when I read the book. Comments and other thoughts are most welcome.


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