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Control or Productivity?

Most software managers like to plan and to control; loss of that control implies fear or weakness. When people are not in control of their own destiny, and every choice is stripped from them, productivity suffers. There’s a great deal of research showing that the dehumanizing nature of some elder-care centers causes people to give up hope; human life systems simply stop working when life becomes a prescribed ritual without individuality.

In the development world, people usually don’t die—they just complain a lot and work slower. If you’ve ever seen a half-dozen people drawn into an hour-long conversation about how silly a policy is, you know what I mean—imagine if those people could have been working instead!

The best way I can describe this principle is to tell you about my daughter, Kathleen. Katie is three, and if I tell her she must do something, well, she may do it, but it’ll probably be lunchtime first...or dinner...or bedtime. So instead of orders, we focus on giving her choices: Do you want to wear your coat or carry it with you? Do you want to brush your teeth before or after bath time? Sure, you can stay here now, but then we won’t have time to go to the playground later....

I’m convinced that a great deal of the talk about having developers "sign up" for projects, work, or sit down with customers to discuss "story cards" is simply an application of this principle.

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