Upgrading the “Machinery”

By | June 27, 2007

Capability development does not just “happen”. It takes time and a commitment to effect the type of changes required to improve capabilities. When an organization is running at break neck speeds it becomes difficult to take the time needed to identify improvement areas. It is especially difficult to invest the time required to make and integrate changes within the organization.

This analogy is from “Software Process Improvement Handbook: A Practical Guide” by Karl Wiegers –

“Manufacturing industries realize they need to take their equipment off line periodically for retooling, performing preventive maintenance, and installing upgrades that will improve productivity or quality. The product managers and marketing people accept this planned downtime as a necessity and adjust their production schedules around it. Process improvement is the software industry’s equivalent of machinery upgrades. It upgrades the capabilities of both individuals and organizations to execute software projects. You don’t ordinarily shut down the software development machine, so you have to implement the upgrades in parallel with your production work.”

Before I go on, the analogy breaks down a bit since I do not think it is fair to compare machines and people. People are not interchangeable resources and can’t be considered drop in replacements, as much as some would have us believe that is so. We have to take the time to improve the machinery (e.g., people and processes). We may not be able to take the organization “off line” but we can slip in new or improved equipment and change the line up to increase efficiencies. By planning for “system” maintenance, process improvements begin to be thought of as normal and ongoing operational activities.

How do we make this happen? A commitment that capability development is important and maintaining focus. This is supported by investing a percentage of an organization’s capacity to capability development. How much effort should we invest? There are industry statistics that show that for an organization to make significant headway, they should invest 6 – 8 percent (Wiegers, Karl E. 2005. “Why Is Process Improvement So Hard?”) of their budget on capability development and 10 percent or more indicates a major commitment.

Depending upon the size of this organization this can be a substantial investment but then keeping the machinery running isn’t free and lack of investment can become much more costly as we will see in a future post.

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