Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Architects and Healthy Tension

One of the more annoying practices that occurs in the blogosphere is when architects use the same tactics as non-technical project managers by attempting to find happy mediums in conversations. One on hand, they believe that healthy tension is good and that there is a knowledge crisis in our profession, yet on the other hand, they don't want to see meaningful conversations occur where new insights can emerge...

Throughout our profession, many of us have ran across that non-technical project manager who believes that they are adding value by moderatingfacilitating conversations between technical individuals. One technical resource may think it will take say fifteen days to accomplish a task while another technical resource may think it will take say fourteen days to accomplish a task. The non-technical project manager will rally the troops and discuss the discrepancies. The non-technical project manager will demonstrate their authoratative leadership (fyi, don't step in it) by boldly asking two parties if it is fourteen days or fifteen days and noting that there is no agreement and will ultimately make the decision themselves.

In this situation, the non-technical project manager has yet again failed to realize that in their disillusionment of adding value that they have in all reality shut down a useful conversation that needed to occur. Maybe if they recognized that to the untrained eye what appears as a dispute really isn't.

Maybe I am in the wrong profession. After all, I have flown on airplanes before and I do know how to provide a tune-up for my lawn mower. Maybe this makes me highly qualified to mediate discussions between two aircraft engineers over at Pratt and Whitney. I could learn all the buzzwords that the engineers use and help design better jet engines. Who in the blogosphere wants to fly on the first flight with me?

Many folks throughout my career have heard of the 7.42 thesis where if two technical resources are being questioned by someone with an untrained eye as the moderatorfacilitator that they should immediately state an arbitrary level of precision made up on the fly which will signal to the other resource that this conversation isn't really worth having and should occur in an environment at another time where healthy tension is appreciated.

Some folks will get it twisted and still won't get the point. Consider, the walk to lunch where you may observe to engineers A and B where A is ranting about the code of say Engineer C. You may observe a conversation that sounds like (I made the conversation politically correct so as to not offend ) "Man, person X bugs me. Have you seen his code? Whoa! unreadable. I am surprised it compiles. Totally wreckless..."

9 times out of 10 if you put Engineer A and Engineer B in the same room, you'd be unable to discern that there was an actual issue because they'd treat each other professionally and with courtesy. The issue will often resolve itself or just be that... an issue. Where you're going to need to get involved is where the angst is real and potent and, well, as emotionally charged as I've ever seen in IT... the bug database.

Imagine if healthy tension and if conversations where never allowed to emerge. Would we all think the world is flat? Would we all think that waterfall methodologies are sound? and that Hamas is bad for the Middle East? I wonder if healthy tension were to occur whether we may conclude that the world is really round, that there are better ways of developing software and that democracy in the Middle East is good for all.

Most enterprises have done a wonderful job in creating healthy tension between engineers and the QA folks. I would rate this a level four on the healthy tension maturity model. Five is harder to obtain since it would require the QA department to not be viewed within the industry as the training ground for Junior IT folk. Likewise, if you have achieved a five, the ultimate goal of shipping a product may never happen. Where does the maturity meter rest when asking the same question of healthy tension between architects in the blogosphere? I would say it is a two but of course there is someone that is willing to debate. The answer doesn't really matter as the dialog is more important.

Some organizations attempt to avoid healthy tension and prefer propaganda based approaches of attempting to get everyone on the same page. They hang up posters and pat themselves on the back but never really ask the difficult questions of themselves. Usually organizations such as these ultimately fail. Failure is manifested in several ways including blown IT budgets a mass exodus of truly talented individuals and lots of individuals simply going through the motion without passion or personal committment.

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