“Outcome is a function of process”

October 30, 2016 – 10:21 am

I was just catching up on Tim Kong’s excellent blog, when I read this great quote from Dan Carter:

“One thing we talk about over and over with this current All Blacks side is about never focusing on the outcome. We view the outcome as a function of following our processes. That might sound a little dry to some, but looking back at every major loss we’ve had over the years, they mostly started with us thinking too far ahead of the game.”

I like that quote a lot.  There’s a lot you can find in it:

  1. You can’t do success.  Instead, you can only run, pass, tackle, communicate … all of which can contribute to success.
  2. Even in a game with as many different plays, player matchups, imbalances, and opportunities as rugby, the winners are winners because they have s system that generates wins.
  3. The team’s playbook must necessarily be flexible, because it will be used in many different circumstances (and there’s an opponent who will exploit predictability).
  4. The team is still important.  You can’t give the All Blacks playbook to the Mahurangi B rugby team and expect them to win against the Lions.
  5. Your team still has to train, to be the best they can be and to lock in the playbook.
  6. So within general principles, you find what works and use that.

So too with engineering management.  Your job is to shape the processes that give you success.  They may be different in some ways from the processes that give others success.  Your processes won’t dictate every solution to your team.  The members of your team are still important, and they should still be learning and running.

But engineering management is not sport.  The tech environment changes constantly, and every day is game day.  Consequently, much more of the playbook related to solving specific problems on the field devolves to the team members themselves, and much more learning happens on the field.  But, as with sport, relentless running will exhaust your team so it’s wise to build rest days for learning and exploration into your team’s schedule if you want them able to play their best game the rest of the time.

Ok, I’m done.  I promise, no more sportsball metaphors.


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