Is Management by Objectives (MBO) silently sabotaging your DevOps efforts?

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Is Management by Objectives (MBO) silently sabotaging your DevOps efforts?

Excerpt from A Tale of Two Companies

The vast majority of DevOps practitioners and advocates have repeatedly mentioned that DevOps uses the work of Dr. W. Edwards Deming, what they all fail to mention is that Dr. Deming was a fierce opponent of Management by Objectives (MBO) which to this day is still ingrained in the culture of many organizations and works counter to what the DevOps movement is attempting to accomplish.

Management by objectives was first popularized by Peter Drucker the most revered guru of American management in his 1954 book The Practice of Management. Management by objectives is the process of defining specific objectives within an organization that management can convey to organization members, then deciding on how to achieve each objective in sequence. This process is supposed to allow managers to take work that needs to be done one step at a time to in order to allow for a calm, yet productive work environment.

Dr. Deming wrote in his 14 points that he thought MBO was a bad idea and he was emphatically clear about this. About 15 years later, Drucker himself came around to the same point of view and recognized that MBO had failed. So, what did Deming find wrong with it and why does DevOps also discourage it?

Management by Objectives asserts that it is essential for managers to have quantitative objectives to work towards. They should set these objectives themselves, consistent with the objectives of the business as a whole. But Management by Objectives is short on how this can actually be done, how should you identify proper metrics, how you set targets for each metric, and how you go about reaching these targets. It is not an accidental omission. In the Management by Objectives world, managers are supposed to be able to find the answers themselves. It is part of their job, and they are supposed to have the required talents to do so.

Dr. Deming instead saw arbitrary objectives, unrelated to the purpose of the business, set without any plan on how to achieve them or even a means of taking accurate measurements. Deming sees MBO as “an attempt to manage without knowledge of what to do.” The managers focus on outcomes without looking into the processes (DevOps specifies that we look at processes via methods such as The Theory of Constraints) that produce them. Managers end up gaming metrics rather than improving processes and playing management firefighting.

So why do so many software organizations still lean on Management by Objectives and refuse to look instead at improving processes as Deming and DevOps suggest? The problem lies in the need for cultural change, Management by Objectives has become ingrained in the culture of most organizations and because management is so unfamiliar with Deming and Lean they never question the continued use of MBO or even realized they are using it. Basically, because so many managers lack basic business acumen they continue to follow the MBO play book that they have been exposed to.

By | 2018-02-14T08:58:20+00:00 February 5th, 2018|agile, best practices, DevOps|Comments Off on Is Management by Objectives (MBO) silently sabotaging your DevOps efforts?

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