Morale Boost

October 22nd, 2006 by Hugh

The morale at Exbiblio is noticeably higher than when I was there a month ago – and yet everyone is far more aware of all the numerous tasks that still need to be done to get a functioning prototype in their hands. It’s a strange conundrum. They know better than ever that they are on a long hard road, and yet they feel more satisfaction from their daily work.

Ian MacDuff, who looks like a much happier engineer than last time I saw him, tells me that it comes down to good process starting to be implemented. There is now a list of tasks and milestones. As these get ticked off, people feel they are making progress. What he warns against is the “death march” which describes a project where you continually think that you are almost done, and constantly disappointed to find that you aren’t. It seems never ending, largely because you can’t see how far you have come down the road, or indeed where the road finishes.

Ian believes that good process begets more good process, because as people understand its value, they start to demand more of it. Information empowers, even if it tells you what you don’t always want to hear. There’s a motto pasted on the window of his office: “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” (Perhaps those words could apply to transparent blogging).

Ed Mahlum – for the management – also sees a discernible improvement: “I don’t think we were doing as good a job as we could in the way we were managing our work. We are now very specifically tracking all the work we are doing. Everything is much more concrete. This is bread and butter project management stuff.”

So why was Exbiblio not doing this before? I don’t think it’s because the management were naive or inexperienced, but it was a deliberate attempt to foster creativity and experimentation. Ed still says “the presumption of not knowing everything is a very good presumption”, but he now thinks that the creative / development process was too loose, and perhaps there should have been a better defined box to play in.

Ed believes that the improvement in morale is also due to better communication of Exbiblio’s environmental project, Compendia, which is starting to take shape.

“It’s always been there in word, but no one has been working on it, aside from a few conversations here and there. It makes it real to put effort in there and for people to see it.”

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