Politics Is Inevitable, But

Politics Is Inevitable, But…

In almost every organization, there is going to be some degree of politics. In the House of Representatives and the Senate, political context and the bartering that accompanies it are fundamental. But as I have already pointed out, when it comes to technical organizations, most of the participants would like to minimize the political context. Why?

The answer is simple. You cannot solve technical problems by political compromise. If there are two sides to an issue, one of which is technically feasible and one of which is technically ridiculous, no political compromise will work. Imagine an absurd example: The "solidistas" want dams to be solid, while the "holeistas" want dams to look like Swiss cheese. The political compromise of having only one or two holes in the dam would make no sense whatsoever.

Most people quickly understand the issues implicit in the last paragraph, but not always. I have seen, on occasion, otherwise intelligent people falling into the trap of trying to mediate between competent and incompetent people, giving equal weight to their ideas. This never works, annoys both parties, and tends to really discourage the competent people. Another way of saying this is that "Everyone is entitled to an opinion," but technical people know that not all opinions are equally well qualified.

Another, more subtle variant of the political pitfall for technical organizations is bartering. In many political processes, two sides get to trade on issues: You concede on this one and I'll concede on that one. We each "win one," and we each "lose one." This is the most frequent way of avoiding deadlocks.

Well, in technical organizations this won't work in many contexts. If there are two dams to be constructed, then again it makes no sense to build Dam A according to the "solidista" philosophy and Dam B according to the "holeista" philosophy. One will hold water and the other won't. Period.

Nor does it work to give the wrong-headed side free rein in some other area. If the political compromise to achieve solid dams is to let the incompetent "holeistas" go off and design another class of structuresay fortressesthen we have once again made a really bad decision through the use of "politics."

Of course, the choices in real life are not always so clear. If it were always a choice between the "solidistas" and the "holeistas," our lives would be easier. Often the two (or more) alternatives are not so obviously differentiable, and the technical issues may be very muddy indeed. In such cases, it is not always true that both sides are willing to admit that the other side has some merit. Often, technical criteria become submerged and the discussion degenerates into politics. This is generally bad.

The Software Development Edge(c) Essays on Managing Successful Projects
The Software Development Edge(c) Essays on Managing Successful Projects
Year: 2006
Pages: 269

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