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Command & Control is Waste

People generally do not like to be uncertain and uncertainty can make people nervous.
When you hire a painter to paint your house you want him to tell you how much it is going to cost and when the job will be done, right?… or would you not?

I worked with lots of people who say “I do not have faith in this, there are to much uncertainties, why don’t we try to tackle these uncertainties upfront!”

They have questions like:
How do you control that the right thing will be build?, What is the detailed plan for the coming years?, What is the complete architecture?, How do you control this, how do you control that, etc.”

These questions have partly to do with planning for the future and partly to do with command and control!
People want to be as certain as possible before and during projects. They want to minimize risk! People feel safer when e.g. they have detailed analysis and requirements, do lots of preplanning and planning, and of course write it all down in documents.

“Now that we’ve written it down people know what to do and we have much better control…”

Doing all this upfront work increases the feeling of reduced risk and better control right, it gives people the illusion of control!
But if you do all of that what happens is that:

  1. You loose a lot of time doing all this work! It can take months and months. You could have used this time to make real progress on your project.
  2. You are using only a fraction of the knowledge and talent of the development staff. They are more or less treated like construction workers, “This is the plan, now you follow it exactly”.
  3. The commitment, support and understanding of the people doing the actual work is poor to say the least.

So how can we deal with this uncertainty? What does Lean and Agile tell us about this?

Of course you should do things upfront to reduce risk, establish vision and a plan. But it should not be driven by realizing command and control.

For one thing, all this command and control is waste! Why check when you can prevent! An organization should not become good at command and control, NO it should completely eliminate the need for any command or control!

Organizations think they need command and control because they assume things like

  • “Our workers cannot oversee how to best do their job”
  • “Our workers do as little as possible”
  • “Our workers do not care about quality”

Even is this is true in your organization, as sad is that would be, the solution for this is to look at the system the people work in. In Lean thinking we believe that most problems and errors are systemic in nature. Meaning that the output the people produce is a consequence of the the system they work in and are a part of.

So, if you want to eliminate command and control and let people use their talents and passion as much as possible in the good of the company what about starting with the following

  • Creating a clear purpose and direction.
  • Letting people closest to the work decide how to do their work and how to measure progress towards the goal.
  • Expect from people to try, fail and learn.

If your best people are on the job, they share a clear purpose and direction, can decide how to organize their work, measure progress towards the common goal, have the safety to learn and as a result have intrinsic motivation to make it a success then…. what do you need to control?

Categories: Agile stuff, Lean Tags: , ,
  1. Ben Hill
    September 27, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    I think you should read up on Nicholas Taleb.

    He is more focused on the philosophical nature of risk, especially in finance.

    There is a lot of overlap between what he says and agile.

    • cesarioramos
      September 27, 2010 at 8:06 pm

      One of his books is still on my ever growing list of books I want to read.

      But the thing I want to make clear is that we would make our organizations lives more effective is we created an environment in which command & control is not needed.

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