Diversity in teams is a good thing. I’ve been thinking about the diversity in behavioral tendencies that help to create a one-of-a-kind team culture. Specifically, how does diversity play a role when encountering dysfunctional processes in a software organization?

There is no shortage of process and no shortage of dysfunction in software organizations. This makes it rather easy to observe and make some generalizations of behavior. Examples of common process dysfunctions in software organizations:

  • Processes for how work is estimated, prioritized, and tracked
  • Processes for long range roadmap planning
  • Processes for handling of production incidents, customer requests, and bugs
  • Processes for releasing and deploying
  • Processes for interacting with external dependencies, like an ops team or a shared software component.
  • Processes for evaluating individual performance and merit

My own tendency when encountered with dysfunctional process is to dive in and work to change the process. But I fully realize if everyone was focused on changing process and getting buy in on new and better ways to work, we would rarely ship actual code and the product would ultimately suffer. Diversity in how a team reacts to dysfunctional process is healthy.

Here are three tongue-in-cheek personas to demonstrate the differences in behavioral tendencies when encountered with a dysfunctional process:

The Wizard

The wizard is able to magically get things done despite inefficiencies in the process. When I think of a wizard in the fantastical sense they are reciting ancient spells in obscure languages and everyone is amazed by what happens. The modern day wizards know may know a programming language, a scripting language, a tool, a library better than anyone on the team and can invoke its magic when it is most needed. You know that guy who can solve any problem with a bash prompt? Wizard. These personas are often the first to go to when something goes wrong. The wizard accepts the constraints and dysfunctions of the processes and gets stuff done despite it all.

The Activist

The activist is championing a better way, a way free from the injustices of past processes. A political activist makes loud statements through marches, demonstrations, or social media in order to raise awareness to the issues at hand. The software activist has similarly seen the light of what ‘best practices’ can do to a team and is determined to bury old antiquated processes. The activists is not afraid to break the process if it can prove a point that there are better ways of working. With little reverence for the processes in place the activist is able to build a better product by carving new pathways quickly.

The Diplomat

The diplomat is sensitive to the importance of understanding the underlying motives that often lurk behind dysfunctional processes. Diplomats in foreign policy are often found negotiating strategic agreements with other states while representing the interests of the sending state to create that ‘win-win’ agreement. In software teams the diplomat will be dialoging with the internal team members to understand process constraint while also reaching out to other stakeholders external to the team if there is an opportunity to systematically influence process change. The diplomat seeks long lasting improvements that can be made with healthy relationships and the constant perusal of the underlying root causes in dysfunctional processes.

Do you resonate with one of these personas? Is the team you work with a mono-culture in behavioral tendencies or is it full of diversity? My team at work is in the process of hiring, I wonder, how the interview process would change if we sought out out candidates that have different behavioral tendencies? Do I bias my evaluations of candidates based on my ‘diplomat’ tendencies?

As a final note, I just want to recognize that it would be silly to say say everyone fits into one of these personas. If you’re thinking “I don’t fit into one of these..”, the point is not that you don’t fit in. Diversity takes many forms. In fact, I’d love to come up with many more cheeky personas to add to the mix. These personas are really just here to help me see the value “the other” brings, to look at those different than myself and see how I rely on them to be a more effective developer and agent for change.

Here is a picture in the lobby of Wieden+Kennedy in Portland, OR. This text sits among a large wall of all these individual and quirky photos of W+K employees. Love this message.