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Bureaucracy destroys initiative

“Bureaucracy destroys initiative. There is little that bureaucrats hate more than innovation, especially innovation that produces better results than the old routines. Improvements always make those at the top of the heap look inept. Who enjoys appearing inept? — A Guide to Trial and Error in Government, Bene Gesserit Archives” — Frank Herbert in Heretics of Dune.

I’ve been reading through Frank Herbert’s Dune series. I found this quote in one of the chapter headings. It explains my many previous complaints about Project/Product/Program Management.

Companies set up all those layers of management to get predictability. Agile practitioners, like Dave Farley, point out that predictability doesn’t get your software faster, it just adds work. To developers like me, it seems like unnecessary work.

More than that, it prevents me from creativity. I can’t innovate, nor take initiative on new ideas that come out of the work we’re doing. I can’t make more than incremental improvements.

Consider if I make a huge improvement. The company had already announced the planned change we were going to make. The huge improvement makes that planned change obsolete.

We now have two paths.

  1. We can follow up with the huge improvement. All the marketing work goes out the window.
  2. We can postpone that huge improvement. Marketing and management are “happy.” I as a developer feel unheard, and penalized. I have to implement the wrong thing.

For the company, I can’t build even better the huge improvement. It’s not yet in place to build upon. That’s why happy is in quotes. They’re happy in the short term, but in the long term, the business suffers.

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