VISTA Enterprise Network - Successful Implementation, World Class Support

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Culture of Criticism

Dear Reader,

Miss Manners, many blessings upon her, gently reminds us that it is not proper to try to parent other adults (or even children other than your own, prior to their graduation into adulthood), to correct them or criticize them, in public or otherwise.

There are two exceptions.

1) Parents can and should correct their children, preferably gently, by example, and in a way that both helps them develop into good people and also preserves their dignity.

2) Teachers can and should correct their students, much as parents correct their children but not across as broad a range of subjects, more focused upon the subjects under consideration but still including an emphasis on helping them develop into good people and preserving their dignity.

This second case applies to the VISTA community.

According to the seven-part VISTA model, our software lifecycle depends upon another lifecycle, an expertise lifecycle. The VISTA community has to be structured as a perpetual-learning organization, with each community member acting as both student and teacher to the best of their abilities. We have to cultivate our expertise and help each other develop, because we are embarked upon such a difficult mission.

In an educational context, especially one dedicated to scientific and engineering pursuits, we have to be straight with each other about our mistakes, our flaws, our bugs, our opportunities to learn and improve. This can and should be done respectfully, but it must also be done unambiguously, and if the students don't get the message with subtler forms of suggestion, more overt and direct language is called for.

The key to open-source-software development is that we work together to find and fix the problems so we can keep making our software better.

The key to an expertise lifecycle is that we do the same thing to make ourselves and our development processes better.

Even the best hardhat, the most experienced or expert hardhat, the wisest hardhat, is a perpetual student of VISTA, whose mastery will always be exceeded by the things he still has to learn.

To improve the software we must always be straight with each other about the bugs in our code.

To improve the software lifecycle, we must do likewise with our distribution of authority and our management of projects.

So, when I criticize the VA managers for their mismanagement of VISTA, it is in this spirit. I'm not setting myself up in opposition to them, or as superior to them, or on the other team from them. Mostly they're friends of mine, people I know and respect.

And in the same spirit that I critique the flaws in the programming style of my newest students, in the same say I criticize my own code when I'm team programming with my peers, I will call out the flaws in the approach of the VISTA managers. The best of them expect this of me, demand it of me.

And in doing these things, I am not doing anything special, not in the VISTA community. I am just doing my duty as a VISTA hardhat. Any of us would do the same.

In the VISTA community, we're straight with one another about the things that need to be fixed. Anyone who can't handle that must either learn to handle it or else find themselves another line of work. What we do is too important to lie to ourselves about our performance. We have to improve, always.

Our responsibility to VISTA adopters and their patients demands it of us.

Yours truly,

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