A Psychology Framework That Will Help You Implement CM Practices


In her Personality Matters series, Leslie Sachs examines the personalities and people issues that are found in technology groups from cross-functional, high-performance teams to dysfunctional matrix organizations.

How does personality impact the implementation of industry Standards and Frameworks? It would seem that following the guidance in the IEEE 828 CM Planning standard is simply a matter of writing CM Plans and documenting your existing CM practices. The fact is that some people implement Standards and Frameworks successfully and others fail miserably. This article presents a popular and highly regarded psychology framework that will help you better understand how to implement Configuration Management.

Where Does Personality Fit In?
In the book Configuration Management Best Practices: Practical Methods that Work in the Real World (Addison-Wesley, August 2010) that I coauthored with Bob Aiello, I focused on the key concepts which CM Experts need to consider when implementing CM Best Practices. In that book, we discussed communication styles, how men and women interpret language differently, effective consultation, verifying the message and information processing styles that limit (or enhance) your prospects for success. In this article, we will examine a popular framework for understanding personality. This material will help you be better positioned to successfully implement standards and frameworks and CM Best Practice too.

Navigating the OCEAN
John M. Digman was among those to propose a Five-Factor Model of personality. His work was complemented by many other psychologists including well known Paul T. Costa, Jr. and Robert R. McCrae. The five factors include:

  1. Openness to Experience (regarded by many as “Culture”)
  2. Conscientiousness
  3. Extraversion
  4. Agreeableness
  5. Neuroticism (sometimes called “emotional stability)

Understanding these five factors turns out to be essential in predicting successful performance in tasks and occupations. Let’s take a look at the five factors in the context of what it takes to successfully implement industry standards and frameworks.

Key Traits
Much of the research on personality shows that Conscientiousness is the most reliable predictor of success for many occupations. This means that you need to look for Change Agents who show an attention to detail and strongly value doing things correctly. Agreeableness and Openness to Experiences (Culture) may predict which people are more willing to consider doing things better. You also may get your relationship builders from Agreeableness (common trait for sales people). Extraversion is the trait you look for in your evangelists, those enthusiasts who will help their colleagues overcome resistance to change.  This is just an overview but can help you begin to think about which people in your organization are most likely to adapt and those with the personality to encourage others to rethink how the current process model can be tweaked to increase efficiency and productivity.

When Things Go Bad
Trying to implement standards and frameworks may put you up against people who like to focus on their creative side without the binds of having to follow rules and structure. Working under conditions of extreme pressure to get things done fast usually leads to an atmosphere of tension which can greatly disturb some individuals. Generally speaking, more emotionally stable people are less upset by mild anxiety than are people who score high on neuroticism. When particularly stressed, some technology professionals just don’t want to be “limited” by rules and regulations as they struggle to complete a given project. High levels of anxiety will cause them to just  look for the “easy” way out and undermine their cooperation toward using standards and frameworks. Other stakeholders  may exhibit a tendency for Obsessive-Compulsive behavior that must be managed carefully.

OCD meets Standards & Frameworks
Many people are familiar with the expression “he can’t see the forest for the trees”. This cliché aptly describes the dilemma of a person living with obsessive-compulsive tendencies. The more severe cases involve the urge to do odd rituals and repetitive behaviors and may require intensive therapy to allow sufferers to function adequately even part of the time. However, many individuals struggling with mild forms are found in every business setting. In fact, the overattention to every detail which is one of the classic symptoms of OCD is actually an asset in certain lines of work. This is often the case when an organization needs to implement standards & frameworks. Whereas the creative free spirit types will chafe at the thought that they must meet what they feel are confining regulations, the technology professionals with a preference for rules & orderliness often will be the strongest supporters of a manager’s plan to implement Standards and Frameworks. They just need to be coached and closely supervised so that their natural zeal does not annoy & overwhelm others. A CM improvement effort is certainly more likely to succeed if it flows smoothly rather than having the participants feel as if they have been run over by a steamroller!

The People Side of CM
Understanding the people side of CM will help you be more effective in implementing industry standards and frameworks. The five critical personality factors measured by the OCEAN model can serve as a guideline to identifying people in your organization who are most likely to be good team players. Seeking out the cooperation of those who are more naturally receptive to incorporating new ideas will put you in a stronger position to influence those who are more resistant.

Standards and frameworks can help make a good organization even better. In addition to the increased efficiency & productivity that adherence to set guidelines often provides, many organizations are required by law to follow them. Yet another motivation is that such compliance connotes high standards and a demonstrable commitment to corporate responsibility and citizenship. Appreciating which personality matters impact the implementation of standards & frameworks and how these factors interact will give the knowledgeable CM manager a distinct advantage.

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