The Politics of Process Improvement

Lately, I have been pondering the politics of process improvement in a large software organisation. This relates directly to me being invited to join my employers’ Software Engineering Process Group (SPEG). This committee is also known as the Software Process Improvement Group (SPIG) in other circles.

I attended my first SEPG meeting yesterday. After seeing the characters that inhabit the forum, I’m a little daunted by the prospect of raising items to the agenda, mainly due to the political nature of the group. The SEPG is made up of about fifteen or so middle managers from various corners of the operational and IT divisions. And me – the sole representative from the development community.

I would regard myself as fully qualified to work in such a group, having extensively studied various papers on CMM and SPI, as well as chairing a similar committee five years ago in another (much smaller) company. I have a keen interest in making use of the best methodologies for software development, as I believe this is the best way to write software that will create business benefit and delight its users (and so make me happy).

My committee co-members are qualified in the sense that they control staff resources and budget to accomplish process change. However, they are also unqualified in that they not necessarily interested in enacting change. Rather, they are representing various factions in the the company, and have incentive to try and protect their turf by ensuring that any change that does occur will not subtract from their slice of the pie.

The realities of working in any large enough organisation is that political influences play a primary role in determining how work is organised and allocated. Change of any sort is usually viewed with suspicion and hostility. When a group whose main purpose is to enact change (such as the SEPG) is populated by people who resist change, it doesn’t bode well for the effectiveness of the group.

In the end, I still think that there is a lot that can be achieved. There is a large amount of pain being felt in the business because of problems in the current processes (or lack thereof). This means that there is a certain amount of desire to fix the problems. It just may require a certain amount of delicacy and tact to prise people away from the status quo.

I found a couple of interesting resources from Rational with some interesting points on the problem: