You are a Developer Artist. You are a creator, not a resource. Your worth is not measured in Lines of Code Written or Story Points Burned. Thom Bradford (2012)
The Rise of the Managerial Class
The rise of the managerial class is tied with the emergence of monopoly capitalism which dates back to the First World War. Monopoly capitalism is the absence of free markets and competition with its replacement of large capital formations and the separation of ownership and control. In “The Managerial Revolution”, James Burnham (1941) describes a new “social group or class” of “manager” that has fought “for social dominance, power and privilege for the position of ruling class.” His thesis is that planned and centralised managerial societies are arising, that are both undemocratic and bureaucratic. These new societies do not just exist in large capitalist organisations, but are also the core of Fascist and Communist states.
Fordism is a system of production that combines both mass production and consumption. It holds the division of labour but produces a high-volume standardised product at low cost. Workers are employed in large factories but are paid enough to buy their own product. In “Life After Henry (Ford)”, Robin Murray (1988) based Fordism on four main principles:
- Standarised, interchangeable components
- Mechanisation of all mechanisable tasks
- Manual work is subject to Taylorism (see below)
- The emergence of the assembly line – products moving to the worker and not the other way round
Ford did not invent but merged these practices, undercutting craft-built car competitors and leading to a revolution in the production process across various industries.
The Fordist organisation separated “intellectual” and “mechanical" work, with managers making decisions and workers doing work. Like Taylorism, mass production deskilled and compartmentalised work. Fragmented, repetitive tasks and little worker autonomy lead to discontent and high labour turnover. With mass production came the mass worker, trade union action and industrial unrest.
Command and Control Management
Command and control management for the Systems Thinker, John Seddon (2008), is defined by top down hierarchies, with managers operating unilateral decision making based on data collected.
Command and control management is a combination of a number of theoretical antecedents. Seddon (2008) in ‘Systems Thinking in the Public Sector’ enumerates three thinkers: Adam Smith, Frederick Taylor and Max Weber.
The Scottish autodidact economist Adam Smith noted in “The Wealth of Nations” that material production will greatly increase with concomitant strict divisions of labour. Smith’s opening example is of a ten man pin manufacturer where a single worker could “scarce, perhaps, with his utmost industry, make one pin in a day”, but when that manufacture divided the pin making into eighteen distinct tasks, the shop produced 48,000 pins in a day or 4,800 per man.
Frederick Winslow Taylor
Frederick Winslow Taylor is the father of “scientific management” – a method that proposed a “scientific” approach to work that claimed to improve productivity especially through labour “efficiencies”. Taylor was opposed to the autonomy of the craftsman and believed that there should be a transfer of power away from workers towards management. He argues for specialising and deskilling work, making workers easier to train and instruct. He called the worker “stupid” and that it was the responsibility of management to plan and specify how work should be done.
Max Weber developed the theory of bureaucracy and characterised it in a number of ways. Seddon (2008) outlines these as:
- Clearly defined division of labour and authority
- Hierarchical structures of offices
- Written guidelines prescribing performance criteria
- Recruitment to offices based on specialisation and expertise
- Office-holding as a career or vacation
- Duties and authority attached to positions, not persons.
Weber believed bureaucracy to be both logical and rational in a modern organisation, but also dehumanising and estranging which “succeeds in eliminating from official business, love, hatred and all purely personal, irrational and emotional elements which escape calculation.”
Post-Fordism or the Toyota Method
The post-Fordist debate originated around a number of Left-wing British intellectuals and the theoretical journal, “Marxism Today”. It was an attempt to understand the changing nature of capitalism and the new methods of production. In “Brave New World”, Stuart Hall (Marxism Today, October 1988) describes post-Fordism as:
“A shift to the new ‘information technologies’, more flexible, decentralised forms of labour process and work organisation; … the growth of … computer based industries; the hiving off or contracting out of functions and services; a greater emphasis on choice and product differentiation.”
Post-Fordism is a break from the organisation of mass production. Internally, organisations focus more on communication and a plurality of ideas than top-down command. Instead of fixed-roles there is a multiplicity of selves and planning and co-ordination is not something done by remote managers.
The Toyota Production System
Post-Fordism in part was a way to describe the Toyota Production System (TPS). The TPS is a method to reduce waste and to examine and focus on the ‘economies of flow’ within a system (Seddon, 2008).
The TPS is an outside-in approach which analyses the flow of value all the way back to the customer. By analysing the flow of value we can realise and eliminate any work that does not directly relate to that flow. Actual orders trigger flow and nothing is made without an order. A car can be actualised from start to finish in a matter of days. Turning American Fordism on its head the TPS was ‘pulled’ by the customer instead of being ‘pushed’ by the producer.
The TPS also differed from Fordism in its decision making. Instead of management gathering information and then making remote decisions, the TPS focused on giving those that produce value work decision making capabilities. The worker even has the authority to stop the production line at any time. Design also became an integral part of the process.
Most software organisations operate a Taylorist/Fordist dichotomy of decision making from actual work, where managers command developers to work in a specified way and to use set tools. Even though developers are at the core in the flow of value, they are usually treated as second-class citizens. In most cases it is impossible for a developer to progress through the company echelons without giving up the thing he loves and becomes a manager of some sort.
The developer is not someone who exercises specific tasks to meet management targets. He is not a robot. He also is more than a craftsman – the developer is an artist. The artist differentiates himself from the craftsman in that he desires to create something unique and personal to himself, something that maximises utility and internalises value. The developer is “almost never satisfied with repeatedly producing the same works, but always strives for perfection and novelty — aesthetically, compositionally, and functionally. A craftsman is concerned with perfecting the method, while an artist is concerned with perfecting the product.” (Thom Bradford, Democracy in Work Google group, 2012)
Democracy in Work
Although the essence of Agile is self-organisation it has become something perversely imposed from above in a command and control manner. An Agile organisation cannot be a strictly hierarchical one and even though democracy is seen as the highest societal form, it is rejected in most companies. Agile is about decentralising power and those actually doing the work should have the power to make their own decisions.
Democracy means more than voting, it means giving complete power to workers, including budget and how it is spent, team structure, hiring, direction, work-times, holidays, tools, investment, seating etc. These decisions are normally agreed upon within the team and there is no need for a vote. Most companies are run as dictatorships or oligarchies, when democracy is a more effective way (Giovanni Bassi, 2012, Organizational Democracy). The specific role of manager will be abolished in a democratic org