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No Good Deed

Let’s say that the system engineering culture at your hierarchically structured corpo org is such that virtually all work products handed off  (down?) to hardware, software and test engineers are incomplete, inconsistent, fragmented, and filled with incomprehensible ambiguity. Another word that describes this type of low quality work is “camouflage”. Since it is baked into the “culture”, camouflage is expected, it’s taken for granted, and it’s burned into everyone’s mind that “that’s the way it is and that’s the way it always will be”.


Now, assume that someone comes along and breaks from the herd. He/she produces coherent, understandable, and directly usable outputs for the SW and HW and TEST engineers to make rapid downstream progress. How do you think the maverick system engineer would be treated by his/her peers? If you guessed: “with open arms”, then you are wrong. Statements like “that’s too much detail”, “it took too much time”, “you’re not supposed to do that”, “that’s not what our process says we should do”, etc, will reign down on the maverick. No good deed goes unpunished. Sic.

Why would this seemingly irrational and dysfunctional behavior occur? Because hirearchical corpo cultures don’t accept “change” without a fight, regardless of whether the change is good or bad. By embracing change, the changees have to first acknowledge the fact that what they were doing before the change wasn’t working. For engineers, or non-engineers with an engineering mindset of infallibility, this level of self-awareness doesn’t exist. If a maverick can’t handle the psychological peer pressure to return to the norm and produce shoddy work products, then the status quo will remain entrenched. Sadly but surely, this is what everyone wants, including management, and even more outrageously, the HW, SW, and TEST engineers. Bummer.

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