The Engineering Mapping

The real problem with the gray zone is that many technical people have a bias toward the very high end of the integrity spectrum. They may put gray zone behaviors in their category of bad politics. For example, not telling the whole truth all the time is technically lying, yet some people admit a spectrum here, while others view it as black or white.It is difficult to have a high-trust environment if there is a lot of gray zone behavior. So don't be surprised if, when you talk about politics with engineers and technical managers, they lump "neutral (gray) zone" and "bad" politics under the general, derogatory heading of "politics" and characterize the "good" politics category as "leadership" or "good management." This turns things into a black and white world where all politics is evil. As this was my starting point, I now want to make it clear that we can sort things out, and what remains is really a linguistic mapping issue. Table 13.1 may prove helpful:

Table 13.1. Mapping politics

Political Scientist's View

Mainstream Usage

Engineers and Technical Managers

My "Good Politics"

All part of the political process



My "Neutral Politics"


Not acceptable

My "Bad Politics"

Not acceptable

Not acceptable

One could say that the entire thrust of this chapter is reconciling the "mainstream usage" to the "engineering mapping." These are two different ways of looking at the world, but without understanding the linguistic overloading we can get into a lot of troubleespecially when those engineers think we are defending politics.[8]

[8] We often find some curious and contradictory manifestations of engineers' value systems. For example, it is typical for engineers to feel uncomfortable in discussions with customers if they think you are not being 100 percent honest in all your utterances. Here they apply what can sometimes be an overly rigorous standard. On the other hand, they are puzzled when their integrity seems to be impugned because they missed a schedule milestone. For them, this was just a technical problem, not an issue of a missed commitment and violation of trust. Understanding some of these characteristics is important in dealing with technical organizations, because the obvious mismatches with other parts of the organization can lead to communication problems.

The Software Development Edge(c) Essays on Managing Successful Projects
The Software Development Edge(c) Essays on Managing Successful Projects
Year: 2006
Pages: 269 © 2008-2017.
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