I have mission today. That mission is to convince you, dear reader, that people are the most important success factor for your business, whether it’s a fledgling two-person startup or a Fortune 500 multinational.
Tony Hsieh is the founder of Zappos. Their core values are admirable for their focus on the human side of business. The core value Create Fun and a Little Weirdness tells us we function best when we can be ourselves.
Think about that for a second.
Does your current company allow you to “be yourself”? Or does your company treat you like an interchangeable part in a large machine?
A worker bee.
Does your company play to your strengths, or ding you for your weaknesses? Does your company value and respect those aspects of community that help bring us together – honesty, trust, communication, accessibility, empathy, and joy?
Think about it some more. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
In the software industry, there’s this thing known as the Iron Triangle or Project Triangle that has been around forever:
This diagram represents the tradeoffs associated with the typical software project, and it’s usually phrased as “time, cost, or features: pick any two.” Which means that if you (the customer) want a set cost and a set time, then we (the project team) will need to adjust the feature such that we make your budget and schedule. If you want to fix the schedule and features, then we will tell you what it will cost to do so. Etc.
Many people, stuck in old ways of thinking, write phenomenally out-of-touch things like “Recognize that the iron triangle must be respected.”
A while ago, some smart folks in the industry noted that something important was missing from the Iron Triangle – quality. How great is it that I get all the features I want, if they are buggy, poorly implemented, difficult to ehance, and impossible to maintain? Some people, useless geometricians all, postulated that the area inside the triangle represented the quality. Other swapped out “features” for “quality” and postulated that the area inside the triangle represented the features (scope).
Jeff Atwood of Coding Horror, a guy I respect a lot, still got stuck buying into the geometric nonsense by proposing the Iron Stool, in which we’re not dealing with a triangle, but a tetrahedron. He still gets it wrong, for all of the reasons having to do with literal geometric interpretation.
Kyle Baley and Don Belcham came up with the idea of a balance, rather than a triangle, and took a few steps forward:
You can think of the inputs on the left, and the outputs on the right. Want more features and/or quality? Add more time and/or money. This seems to make sense and is simpler to imagine than the triangular / tetrahedronal contortions imposed on us by the Iron Triangle.
Where are the people? You know, the human beings that show up every day and actually work on your project, interface with your customers, show up early, stay late, do their best, and go home to their families at night hoping they’ve contributed something worthwhile?
Well, it’s sadly embedded in the little dollar signs.
That tells you a lot right off the bat, doesn’t it? More money = more people, or more “stuff” for people, like faster computers, better tools, Aeron chairs, etc.
What if we expanded our thinking a little bit, and put people first? What if we recognized that happy employees, in the right situation, and with the right support and encouragement at all levels of the organization contribute mightily to the success of the project?
The traditional problem is that the bold terms listed above, on either side of the balance, are soft. They’re squishy. They are not easily measured, and not conducive to neat summaries in spreadsheets or slide decks or annual statements. Bean counters and others for whom the human side of management is scary and foreign shy away from them.
Thought experiment: what do you think would be a bigger influence on the success of a project: adding one additional team member to a ten-person project team, or spending time to make sure that those ten are taken care of, respected, supported, treated as individuals, etc. etc. etc.?
I’d challenge you: give me two employees who know that the company cares, really cares, and works hard at all of the soft characteristics printed in red in the above diagram, and I’ll do better than your ten employees who feel like the company doesn’t really give a shit, and treats them as interchangeable parts.
Did your last project go over schedule by 17%? Do you know why? I’d wager in most companies the standard answer is something like “the client added scope” or “a project team member was on vacation”. Even people who agree with me that human factors are far and away more important than what i might derisively term the bean counter factors are probably so afraid of speaking the truth that they might nod their heads in agreement.
What I’m not suggesting here is a radical realignment of corporate policies toward employees. (Although I might, in a different post). What I’m advocating is that you start to recognized that people, and not money, features, or time, are the biggest and most important factor in your success. And then, start to optimize your practices and policies accordingly.
Report back on your successes, here or privately at email@example.com. I’m keenly interested to hear how it goes.