Ethics


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SPaMCAST 452 features our essay on personal process improvement.  We are responsible for our own path in life. Stepping back and reviewing where we are today and where we want to be tomorrow is a form of a retrospective.  Just like any other retrospective, the goal is to change the trajectory of the path you are on.   

Kim Pries, the Software Sensei, discusses ethics in software. Ethics guide (or they don’t) practitioners of all types.  Many certification organizations include ethics statements but rarely have the teeth to enforce those ethics.  Kim asks whether this approach makes sense.

Anchoring the cast is Jon Quigley with his Alpha and Omega of Product Development column.  Jon is beginning a three column theme on the impact of people and learning on product development. One of the places you can find Jon is at Value Transformation LLC.

Re-Read Saturday News

Today we continue re-reading The Science of Successful Organizational Change led by Steven Adams.  THis week we dive into Chapter One titled Failed Change:  The Greatest Preventable Cost to Business?  The frightening part of this chapter is how intimately it resonates based on personal observation. Remember to buy your copy.   

Previous installments:

Week 1: Game Plan

Week 2: Introduction   

Week 3: Failed Change

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Being on time is one aspect of ethical behavior

Ethics are the moral principles that govern behavior.  The principles that underlie ethics help us judge what is right or wrong. Team members on a project team are presented with a nearly continuous stream of choices to test their principles. Over the years I have seen choices that were clearly unethical, some that might be in a gray area and the majority have been ethical or at least neutral. An example of a clearly unethical decision was when a project showed a project as having a green status when it was clear that it was in deep trouble. I was recently asked why not unit testing code when the organizations standard process called for it to be unit tested was an ethical issue rather than just a failure to follow best practices. Unit testing is an expected behavior for most coders. There are at least two reasons this behavior is an ethical issue. The first is when a developer does not unit test the code they have written they are making someone else responsible for finding their mistakes. The second reason is because unit testing is the expected behavior in their methodology (and 99.9% of the coding methods I am aware of).

Here are four general attributes of ethical behavior:

  1. Reliability: A person’s actions should match the behavior they have committed to follow. Many organizations spend substantial time and effort defining techniques and methods with policies to ensure they are followed.  Deciding not to follow the standard process is generally not ethical behavior. In our unit testing example, most methodologies specifically call for developers to unit test their code. When a coder doesn’t unit test they are damaging their reliability. They can no longer be trusted to behave as expected by others following the process.
  2. Responsibility:  Responsibility is about the duty to deal with your actions. In our unit testing example, not unit testing makes someone else responsible for finding and removing your mistakes.
  3. Respectfulness:  Team members must be aware and have regard for the feelings of those around them. Respectful does not mean avoiding tough decisions or conversations, but rather being aware of how deeds, actions and words affect those you and doing your best to help deal with those effects. Making someone else clean up your code is not respectful to the next developer or tester.
  4. Fairness: Actions and decisions need to be objective, evenhanded and consistent. Not following a mandated or agreed upon process does not represent  consistent  behavior.

Why do these four attributes matter when discussing ethics of project team members? It can be boiled down to reputation. In most Agile teams, being able to be counted on to do the right thing is essential for long-run influence.  Self-organizing and self-managing teams which are core feature of Agile need team members to perform within ethical boundaries and to be able to influence each other to do the right thing and to do the right thing right.

UntitledA code of ethics is a compilation of ethical principals brought together into a framework that can be used to guide behavior.  I recently asked friends I work with how many codes of ethics they are bound by, and after a bit of discussion the average was four.  Examples include: IFPUG, PMI, IEEE, SEI, society and religions.  Kevin Brennan, Vice President for Professional Development of IIBA, tweeted me that a group needs a code of ethics to define itself as a profession and they are required for certification bodies under ISO 17024.

I would be the last person to suggest that codes of ethics are a bad idea.  However, the proliferation of codes combined with their relative complexity does give me pause.  An example of the complexity of common of codes of ethics is demonstrated below:

  • IIBA: Code of Ethical Conduct – 22 items
  • PMI : PMI’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct – 36 items
  • IEEE: Software Engineering Code of Ethics and Professional Practice – 80 items

All three of these codes are good, however I doubt very few people can recall any of their specifics. That greatly reduces their overall effectiveness.  Layer that on top of association codes, corporate codes like the great code of ethics from Lockheed (approximately 17 itemsand the complexity level goes up.  I said all of this complexity gives me pause because I would like to see process improvement professionals embrace a code of ethics, but I do not want to increase the level of ethical complexity unless it has value.  I think we can keep this deadly simple.  The code I am proposing is:

Process Improvement Code of Ethics

  1. Treat others as you would like to be treated.  (Golden Rule)
  2. Follow a process to create and maintain processes. (eat your own dog food)
  3. Meet the commitments you make.
  4.  Avoid personal conflicts of interest.
  5. Only pursue changes that benefit the organization.
  6. Make decisions as transparently as humanly possible.

I would suggest that this code is simple and to the point.  Note: I am making the assumption that you’re adhering to laws and that lying, cheating and stealing your neighbor’s Butterfinger are not on the table, based on other codes of ethics.

What is missing? If you adopted these ethical guidelines how would they affect your projects?  How would they affect your professional life?   I am looking forward to your input, reactions and suggestions.  I would also like your opinions on whether ethics and process improvement should be discussed in the same context.

Religion is just one way people learn ethics.

Religion is just one way people learn ethics.

I recently overheard an offhanded comment that went something like, “if you aren’t cheating, you’re not trying hard enough.”  What are ethics?  What is the purpose of ethical frameworks?  Why should they matter to those who manage process improvement?

Wikipedia defines ethics as a branch of philosophy that addresses questions about morality—that is, concepts such as good vs. bad, noble vs. ignoble, right vs. wrong, and matters of justice, love, peace, and virtue.  Hardly the stuff of project management or process improvement, however there is a branch of ethics called applied ethics (doesn’t that sound much more practical?) that seeks to address our daily business lives.

Interest in ethics waxes and wanes over time; they tend to wax when things go awry.  Obvious examples abound, like when Enron  went up in flames, ethics became a hot topic, at MCI during their accounting debacle and even during the BP Oil well crisis. But there are less obvious examples such as the spin to under play a risk in a status report or when someone occasionally conflates effort and progress when a project is behind.  Unless a framework or code is in place to highlight these transgressions, large or small, they go unnoticed and nothing can be changed.

Most ethical frameworks serve two common purposes. The first purpose is to guide behavior so that it is predictable.  Codes of conduct provide a path to guide both the organization’ and the individual’s actions (to an extent they can be different).  Codes of ethics, codes of conduct and the effort to enforce them help to identify deviant behavior before it can injure the organization. The second purpose is as an announcement to the larger world of the higher order rules an organization intends to follow.

The ethics enshrined in these frameworks evolve to guide behavior and provide all affected parties with an understanding of how people (and people proxies) should act.  Rules, laws and manifestos (statements of principles and ethics) are how ethics are applied in the real. The rule, “Thou shall not install un-unit tested code” creates a set of expected behaviors and a set of obligations on all parties.  Living up to the rule is a matter of ethics.  The translation of ethics into codes of conduct, rules, laws or other codes provide a line in the sand so that you can judge whether an action is ethical or not.  The more black and white the ethics rule is the easier it is to follow in real time.

Most corporate codes of conduct or ethics do not address some of the more specific issues with which a project manager of a process improvement projects will need to wrestle.  What can be done?

I begin my process improvement projects by establishing a process improvement manifesto.  The exercise has many benefits; however the primary goal is to help empower the team to make the decisions without having to get permission.  The manifesto acts a basis to form very specific code of ethics to shorten the decision making loop which will improve efficiency for normal IT projects and process improvement projects.

Moral High Ground?

 

 

Own The Moral High Ground

A few months ago I was walking the streets of Washington DC and I came across five DC police motorcycles parked outside of a bar. While I believe the police were working a crowd down the street I heard a number of people wondering if they were inside drinking. Perceptions count.

If you are documenting and selling (ok persuading) processes you need to make sure you are using the same basic processes.  Way too often I find that change agents and process teams seem to believe that process is for “those guys” but not for them. They seem to be amazed at the level of animosity that their perceived arrogance creates. Own the moral high ground! Owning the moral high ground begins by holding yourself (and your team) to the same or higher standard that you hold up for others and being aware of where you park.

Codes of ethics are a compilation of individual statements of ethical principals into a framework to guide behavior.  Most every human being embraces a code of ethics by default whether it is provided by religion, society, their work or organizations and associations.  I recently asked friends I work with how many codes of ethics they are bound with and after a bit of discussion the average was four.  Examples included IFPUG, PMI, IEEE, SEI, society and religions.  Kevin Brennan, Vice President for Professional Development of IIBA, twittered me that codes of ethics are expected for a group to define itself as a profession and required for certification bodies under ISO 17024.

I would be the last person to suggest that codes of ethics are a bad idea.  The combination of proliferation of codes combined with their relative complexity however does give me pause.  Example of the complexity of common of codes of ethics is demonstrated below

Examples

  • IIBA: Code of Ethical Conduct – 22 items
  • PMI : PMI’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct – 36 items
  • IEEE: Software Engineering Code of Ethics and Professional Practice – 80 items

I have read these codes carefully.  All three are good however I doubt very few people can recall any of these codes verbatim which reduces their overall effectiveness.  Layer on top of association codes, corporate codes like the great code of ethics from Lockheed (approximately 17 items found at www.lockheedmartin.com/data/assets/…/ethics/setting-the-standard.pdf) and the complexity level goes up.  I said all of this complexity gives me pause; pause because I would like to see process improvement professionals embrace a code of ethics but I do not want to increase the level of ethical complexity unless it has value.  I think we can keep this deadly simple.  The code I am proposing is

Process Improvement Code of Ethics

  1. Treat others as you would like to be treated  (Golden Rule)
  2. Follow a process to create and maintain processes (eat your own dog food)
  3. Meet the commitments you make (do what you say you your going to do)
  4.  Avoid personal conflicts of interest
  5. Only pursue changes that benefit the organization
  6. Make decisions as transparently as humanly possible

I would suggest that this code is simple and to the point.  Note, I make the assumption that you’re adhering to laws and that lying, cheating and stealing your neighbor’s Butterfinger are not on the table, based on other codes of ethics.

What is missing? If you adopted these ethical guidelines how would they affect your projects?  How would they affect your professional life?   I am looking forward to your input, reactions and suggestions.  I would also like your opinions on whether ethics and process improvement should be discussed in the same context.

Project and Process Improvement Ethics:  A Primer
Part 1: What are ethics and why do care?

 I recently overheard an offhanded comment that went something like, “if you aren’t cheating, you are not trying hard enough.”  This was after watching a handball in the goal at the recent World Cup soccer tournament and then having a soccer coach suggest that kids are taught that technique to defend against a sure goal through the use of a handball.  These are issues of ethics.  What are ethics?  What is the purpose of ethical frameworks?  Why should they matter to those who manage process improvement? 

 The definition of ethics founds in Wikipedia[1] states that ethics is a branch of philosophy that addresses questions about morality—that is, concepts such as good vs. bad, noble vs. ignoble, right vs. wrong, and matters of justice, love, peace, and virtue.  Hardly the stuff of project management or process improvement, however there is a branch of ethics called applied ethics (doesn’t that sound much more practical) that seeks to address our daily business lives.  Applied ethics seeks to identify the morally correct course of action in various fields of human life; business ethics are a form of applied ethics.

 Interest in ethics waxes and wanes over time, they tend to wax when things go awry.  Obvious examples abound such as Enron when things went up in flames ethics became a hot topic, at MCI during their accounting debacle and even during the BP Oil well crisis but there are less obvious examples such as the spin to under play a risk in a status report or when someone occasionally conflates effort and progress when a project is behind.  Each of these examples is a matter of ethics and unless a framework or code is in place to highlight these transgressions, large or small, and so they are noticed and discussed nothing can be changed.

 What purposes do ethical frameworks (groups of ethics that have been consolidated into laws, codes of conduct, and codes of ethics) serve?  I would suggest that most ethical frameworks serve two common purposes.

 The first purpose is to guide behavior so that it is predictable.  Codes provide a path to guide both the organizations actions and the individuals within the organization actions (to an extent they can be different).  Codes of ethics, codes of conduct and the effort to enforce them help to identify deviant behavior before it can injure the organization.

 The second purpose of codes of ethics is as announcement to the larger world the set of higher order rules an organization intends to follow.  Codes of ethics gengerally reflect the rules and norms of the larger external society the organization interacts with. 

 Why should ethics matter to those who manage process improvement?  I suggest that ethics evolve to guide behavior and provide all affected parties with an understanding of how people (and people proxies) should act.  Rules, laws and manifestos (statements of principles and ethics) are how ethics are applied in the real. The rule, “Thou shall not install un-unit tested code” creates a set of expected behaviors and a set of obligations on all parties.  Living up to the rule is a matter of ethics.  The translation of ethics into codes of conduct, rules, laws or other codes provide a line in the sand so that you can judge whether an action is ethical or not.  The more black and white the ethics rule is the easier it is to follow in real time.

 Most corporate codes of conduct or ethics (a set of rules that describe the behavioral expectations of employees) do not address some of the more specific issues with which a project manager of a process improvement projects will need to wrestle.  What can be done? 

 I have recently begun each of my process improvement projects by establishing a process improvement manifesto.  The exercise has many benefits; however the primary goal is to help empower the team to make the decisions without having to get permission.  The manifesto acts a basis to form very specific code of ethics to shorten the decision making loop which will improve efficiency for normal IT projects and process improvement projects.

 Part 2 – Suggestions for a Process Improvement Project Manifesto


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethics