Sunday, December 12, 2004

Actual and Imputed Motivation

In my work as a systems engineer, I encountered a conflict recently that by God's grace we may be able to resolve. We all in the systems engineering team believe that we need to change our methodology for systems architecture. A year and a half of experience with our current methodology tells us it just doesn't provide to our customers (the development contractor) the information they need to do their job.

The chief architect, on the recommendation of a consultant, has selected a particular methodology (I won't name it here.) that several of us are familiar with. He selected this, according to his own statements, because he believes it will make requirements analysis more efficient, giving us more time for detailed design. Those of us most familiar with the methodology are arguing strongly against this move because we know by experience that this methodology doesn't scale well, and we believe that the scope of our project is sufficiently large that it won't scale well for our project. We believe that it won't be more efficient.

The chief architect has been completely unwilling to even listen to our arguments that this is the wrong methodology for us. This has puzzled us, since he is normally a reasonable fellow. In discussing this odd turn of events, we came to a realization that we hope will resolve the issue shortly. The realization has to do with imputed instead of actual motivation.

The chief architect proposed this methodology expecting our group to object because it will move authority (and control) for a key artifact out from our group and give it to another. Going in with this expectation, he has imputed to us a "ricebowl" motivation for all our objections. The truth is that we don't much care who owns this artifact, we are just concerned that the result will be less efficient, rather than more efficient, and have good arguments for such. This is our actual motivation.

I have convinced my boss to discuss this issue -- imputed vs. actual motivation -- with the chief architect. We are now hopeful that once the chief architect understands that our motivations are not what he presumed them to be, he will at least give our technical objections a fair hearing.

Proof that even in the world of engineering, you have to understand people and what motivates them. This experience has taught me to be on the lookout for imputed motivations -- imputed by myself, or imputed by others. I hope that this insight will smoothe interpersonal relations for me in the future.


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