Procedural Justice

scales-of-justice-gavelOne of my favorite books is called “Blue Ocean Strategy”.  It is a marketing book on how to position strategies, but fun to read because of all the examples.

From Chapter 8: ›Social scientists John W. Thibaut and Laurens Walker combined interest of psychology of justice with the study of process ›Created: Procedural Justice ›- What makes people comply with laws without being made to do so? ›People care as much about the justice of the process as they do about the actual outcome.› Satisfaction of outcome increases if it is believed that procedural justice is exercised.

An example in the book is people in democracies often support the laws more than people in a dictatorship, not because the laws are better, but because they know there was a fair process to define them.  They had the chance to contribute.

Try Google searches for “Procedure Justice Blue Ocean Strategy” if you want some more reading.  I found this PowerPoint deck for example that was a good quick read.

The challenge is how to find the right balance between formalization of process and letting people work it out themselves.  This is a hard problem – there is no getting around it.  At some point you need to get a process in place and have people follow it.  It is particularly important when an issue crosses team boundaries. The wider the scope, the more important the standardization.  I will sneak in a reference to my previous post on Shu-Ha-Ri – three levels of mastery from Karate and its relevance to Agile.

But you don’t want to get into a legalistic situation where people avoid taking initiative and getting stuff done because “it’s not my responsibility”. Processes typically identify a single person who is ultimately responsible to make sure something happens.  This is important and necessary.  But equally important is that people not identified as directly responsible do not then take the position of “I don’t have any responsibility here then, because someone else does”.  There is a responsibility of *everyone* to support each other.

With the introduction of Enterprise Agile and generally trying to lift the Engineering quality (which implies definition of more standards of expectation), there has been more process going around.  As per Shu-Ha-Ri, success will be when people stop looking at the process definitions because they know them and follow them without thinking, without overhead.

What might a Procedural Justice system look like for Engineering Practices?

  • Debate: Someone puts up a proposed new process on the Wiki under a “Process RFC” section.  It should describe the process and explain why.  This page might have a label at the top saying “open for comment until <date>”. Everyone is free to add comments to the page.  Discussion ends on the specified date – the process moves to the decision phase.
  • Decide: Someone is identified who has the authority to sign off on Engineering Practices.  Their decision holds.  If they make a judgement, that is it.  The process becomes standard at that point.  The “open for comment” is removed from the page, and the page might be moved from a “proposal” section of the Wiki to a “official process” section of the wiki.
  • Deliver: Teams need to conform to the new standard.  They can raise concerns or learnings, but they must understand that such discussions are NOT a reason to not follow the process.  If they are passionate and have NEW material to contribute, they can raise it with the decision authority.  But there is a decision in place, they need to in the mean time follow the process.

Do you want to get some change through in your organization?  Do you want it to “stick”?  Consider using the principles of procedural justice to help.

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