September 28, 2006
Tom DeMarco On The 3 Golden RulesAnother very interesting answer to the 3 Golden rules thought experiment comes from Tom DeMarco, who wrote the classics Peopleware , Slack and Waltzing With Bears.
First, a quick reminder of the problem:
You are walking along a sandy beach. It is deserted. You spot what looks like a book sticking out of the sand. It is Principles of Software Engineering Management by Tom Gilb. It is dusty. You rub the cover of the book and, in a puff of smoke, a genie appears. He has a friendly face and a white beard, and appears to be standing in front of some kind of lake.
The genie speaks:
"I am the genie of the lamp and I grant you three wishes. Ask of me any three rules, and I will guarantee that from this day forth every single person in your organisation will follow these rules to the letter.
But beware! Beyond these three golden rules you will have absolutely no control at all. Your developers will be able to do whatever they like. You must choose wisely."
What would your 3 golden rules be? Is it possible to provide adequate governance with just three rules?
To which Tom replied:
Well I was amused by your puzzle, but it finally stumped me. If I got anyone to obey MY rules, they would be controlled by me. I'm trying to live my life without controlling anyone because I so value not being controlled. Of course I fail in this (I am forever being caught out trying to control Sally (my wife and best friend) in one way or another. The rules I would impose on her are all vaguely defensible but they could never benefit me or her to the extent that letting her go her own maddening way does.
Of course I could reconstrue the puzzle a bit into a more congenial
form: what vague tendency would I plant in people who worked for me to better enable them to realize their own potential and thus benefit me as well? That one stumps me too, since I don't really believe in my answers enough to be willing to tinker with somebody else's head.
The one I'm still flirting with is an idea that my father tossed at me a dozen or so years ago: he asked me if I ever found myself almost mechanically choosing the shortest thing on my list as the thing to do next. I said yes, that was often what I did. He said I would end up doing a lot of small things in my life. He didn't say so, but I think he was encouraging me to do the longest thing on my list. I now regularly do that. I'm half persuaded that spending at least half of each day working on the biggest thing is a good approach to me. But would I suggest it to someone else (to you, for example)?
Sure, I might suggest it, as I just have, along with its rationale.
But would I MAKE someone respect that rule? Never.
Now, I'm a genuine believer in the mantra "neither a leader nor a follower be", and that people should learn to rely on their own judgement rather than looking to some higher authority to be told what to think or do. So Tom's angle on the problem sits comfortably with me. Again, the answer might be "education, education, education" - as Tony Blair once promised. If people can't judge for themlseves, does that mean they need telling or that they need educating?
Posted 14 years, 3 months ago on September 28, 2006