Bureaucracy is not Discipline

Sometimes you come accross something and pause thinking ‘I have experienced exactly that’. So it happend when I read Scott Ambler’s post ‘Bureaucracy Isn’t Discipline’.

Here are the main points and in my view ammunition for philosophical discussions:

  • Successful agile practices demand great discipline and require significant skill and experience to actually get stuff done.
  • Just following repeatable processes rather than focusing on repeatable results are ‘process smells’ and seen as anti-pattern.
  • Delivering repeatable results in agile environments is critical to success in IT projects.
  • Mistaking bureaucracy for discipline is a reflection of cultural damage that has occurred over the years to large organizations.
  • This bureaucracy is seen as inhibitor to software process improvement efforts and particularly to agile methodologies.
  • A cultural shift towards agile will make many ‘bureaucrats’ uncomfortable.

I think, the approach to use a defined set of formal processes (bureaucracy) comes from the management people who hope to reduce risk and thus ensure repeatable production results. On the other side there are the natural constants of the IT environment with its complexity, constant evolution on all layers, life-cycles etc.

In my opinion, a possible solution could be found between these two extreme views if…

  • hierarchies are kept flat or are at least perceived as being flat.
  • communication-paths are reduced to the least required number and everybody knows what exactly his job is and what skillset this requires.
  • an open, friendly, frictionless and goal-oriented culture gets established and maintained (preferably top-down).
  • the system allows the players to focus on and finish their tasks and have a feeling of accomplishment.