Are You A Union Shop?

By | November 24, 2008


Do you find yourself in an organization that is functionally aligned? Where each “function” has a specific role? Where your ability to be the best you can be at your function is valued higher than ensuring project success? Welcome to a union shop.

My definition of a union shop is one in which each employee has a well defined role and their behaviors are driven by a reward system that is functionally focused. Indeed, it is considered bad form for a person to step outside the “bounds” of their job function. “No, you can’t do that… Your job is to deliver the light bulb, not screw it in.”

Have you experienced the behaviors associated with functional alignment? You find a business analyst spending entirely too much time creating “perfect” requirements, and we all know that perfect requirements stand the test of time and need not change. Any examples of analysis paralysis where too much time is spent crafting a perfect design, a design that takes much more time than if we had just implemented and tested multiple solutions to prove the best design?

The union shop mentality is prevalent in software development organizations that follow the waterfall methodology. It is this waterfall heritage that makes it so very difficult to transition to a more iterative software development practice. Implementing the mechanics of an iterative development methodology is one thing, changing the behaviors of software development practitioners is something entirely different and much more difficult. Changing those behaviors require focus on:

  • A reward system where team success is valued more than individual success.
  • Success of the project is valued higher than perfectly executing a particular function.
  • Patience to recognize that change is difficult and must be supported with training, mentoring, listening, and constant communication.
  • Mistakes will be made and should be expected, so plan for it, accept it, and do not allow mistakes to knock you off the goal.
  • Celebrate each success.
  • Use every opportunity to show the business that the team’s focus is on providing market value.

Union shops provide an organizational structure that tends to focus more on functional success than market value. Break down the functional walls, build teams focused on delivering market value, allow your employees to swarm around a challenge and decide for themselves how best to meet the need. Support them and set them free.

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