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.
Grapes in the Supermarket
When I shop for grapes in the super market, I look at both how fresh they look and also the price. There isn’t much gray area in picking fruits and produce for me and I have never found myself getting biased by my ego when squeezing a melon to decide whether or not it is ripe. Yet, picking a million dollars worth of hardware and software, as part of a tools selection, often brings out the most competitive and combative behavior in some people. Technology professionals jockeying for position in order to influence the course of direction for an organization may behave in ways that are surprising and, at times, even unpredictable.
Fear of the unknown
Change is often a source of fears. Many organizations would rather stay with a familiar suboptimal solution instead of jumping into the scary abyss of an unknown and untried new technology. The tools selection process will often meet with resistance (in the form of “blocking” behavior) from those who were “burned the last time we tried this.” Tools can indeed impact the complete development effort as well as the (entire) organization. While this is an interesting issue from a personality perspective – it can also be stated that these fears, in some cases, may be well-founded.
The “not invented here syndrome”
“Blocking” behavior can also come from those in the organization who truly feel that their ideas are the only ones worth adopting. The “not invented here” syndrome is usually very easy to spot as it often manifests itself in the form of a series of clever objections to any changes that do not maintain the status quo (and thus validate the current state of affairs).
Competition is good, but do you want an all-out “food-fight”?
Arguments can get heated and tempers flare when technology professionals passionately believe that one approach is better than another. Sometimes, this behavior can really get out of hand – and resemble a good old fashioned “intellectual” brawl. Management needs to define the guidelines for the evaluation and set the ground rules for objectively evaluating all of the options.
Including all of the stakeholders
One of the biggest mistakes that any organization can make is failing to include all of the relevant stakeholders. People who have been excluded will often feel resentful and may consciously or subtly not show support for a solution or approach on which they were not consulted. It is often better to err on the side of including all stakeholders, although in the real world it is often true that some people have more influential votes than others. Still, it is essential to always include all of the stakeholders.
Beware of Consultants who promote complex “custom” solutions that have to supported
It is pretty common to bring in a knowledgeable consultant as a Subject Matter Expert (SME) to help with the tools evaluation. While this is an excellent idea when it involves knowledge transfer (KT) – it is often a bad idea to let the consultant have too much influence over the process. Consultants may intentionally or innocently pick a solution that, "coincidentally" just happens to help them stay in a position to keep billing you for their services. A truly knowledgeable SME can run a pilot and bake-off and accurately represent all sides of the evaluation.
Jockeying for power
You may find colleagues who view picking their preferred tool set as an important “feather-in-their-political-hat”. Beware of people who try to hijack the tools selection process for their own political purposes.
What should I do?
While some of these personality issues might seem very challenging to overcome – often some good communication will help mitigate the risk of these distracting side-behaviors. The first step, of course, is to realize and recognize what is going on and why. Hopefully, you have management above you who are to help steer you through what may be a political mine-field. Almost always, transparency and open communication will keep the project on the right track and, of course, yield the best results.
One of the biggest dangers is that you may find yourself becoming part of the problem. This is often inevitable and may even give you some keen insight into why the current dynamics are found in your environment. In a certain sense, you may feel like you are becoming “part of the problem” – and indeed you may very well be! This is normal as the environment may pull you into the problem. Your best choice in this situation is to be aware of the dynamics and realize how it is affecting you personally.
The wrong choice could cost you your job!
Picking the wrong tools can indeed be career limiting. The positive side is that these challenges make this task and the management of the group dynamics all the more important. If you manage to navigate all of the personalities and come up with the best choice from a technical, process and organizational culture perspective, then you can proudly add the effort to conduct a solid tools analysis to your resume. Don’t be surprised when both your current employer and others want to utilize your objectivity and professional “people” skills for the other projects that are equally important to the organization!