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That is I think I disagree

Must be spring. Everyone (Brian, David, Frank, Hugh) seems to be talking about culture. Or at least "Technology vs. Culture". The basic problem with this is that it is a false dichotomy. Technology is no more the opposite of culture than a Zachary's Spinach and Mushroom Pizza is the opposite of god. (Actually in the latter case one can argue that they are very nearly the same thing - so substitute "submarine" for "god")

Hugh started it by positing that:

There can be no technological solution without a cultural solution. Cultural solutions are more valuable and profitable than technological solutions.

This itself is a bit fuzzy as he states that technology and culture are by nature inextricably joined, then says that one type is more valuable and profitable than the other. But The problem doesn't end there. What sort of "solution" is he considering? Technology in a large part is invisible to many people. Does it matter to you to know what the lenses that cast the images on the silicon resists that formed the layers of the microchip that is inside whatever device you are currently reading this on are made of? I'd guess not. Yet fab tools like this ARE profitable and valuable AND have no more cultural dimension than do the carbide tips on the saw blade that some carpenter used to cut a post for your back fence. To insist that there MUST be a "cultural solution" to the problem of longer lasting saw blades or smaller transistor dimensions is close to being absurd. Yet, the vast majority of technology falls in this category. A quick browse through the patent library shows that most of these "technological" advances have little bearing on culture. They are simply attempts to solve certain problems.

Now before you start bringing up the industrial revolution and perhaps the Luddites I would say that there are some "cultural solutions". Unfortunately, many of these have a darker side, especially when carried out by governments. I'm sure you can fill in the names of the perpetrators of "the Final Solution" and the "Cultural Revolution". But again, it is a fuzzy definition and one can not be entirely clear what a "cultural solution" is.

Brian in Projectified talks about the implementation of Project Server as being a "cultural solution", but then goes on to say "read process as 'culture'". Well, so it isn't culture then is it? Technology is a slave to process. It can enable you to build a pyramid, but in itself it is capable of nothing. It is not something that can be opposed to "culture". There have been many instances where new technologies have helped to shape culture, but only in their application and adoption, that is to say, only as when included as part of a process.

Processes have always had the capability of being either easy and simple or difficult and complex. Except for the most basic, they do require training. A kazoo is a technology for making music. So is a piano. The process of playing Chopin well may take years of practice. Is this practice a "Cultural solution" vs. the technological solution of a player piano?. I do not think so.

Here is the way I see it.

Culture is the environment, for humans it is a set of rules and ideas and habits which are generally accepted and followed. At times it includes certain practices. Process is the action you are undertaking. Technology is a tool to help you do something. How can you oppose these? How can you say one is more valuable than the other? It is like arguing whether the land or the house is the more important. Process is process is process. Some are easy, some are hard. Some go against culture, some go with it. Some use new technology, some are impossible because the technology does not exist. The dichotomy of Technology vs. Culture is just a red herring.

I suppose this is the genius of Hugh McLeod, to pose questions to which the answer is "um, maybe". But it is just a bit disappointing when you get to the bottom of it and find out that the question is bogus afterall.

Nothing to get hung about.


Comments (5)

If I implied that I thought Project Server was a cultural solution then Im sorry and I will be re-reading and maybe re-writing my post as a result. I was trying to say that through our deployments of Project Server myself and the others at QuantumPM always made at least the attempt (the customer did not always want to hear it) to address the underlying issues of culture and process. Customers often thought that just installing Project Server would make them better. They did not see that it is the culture\processes of their organization that has the larger impact on their success. They mistook (though often by accident) technology for culture.
I was trying to say that Project Server by itself is not a cultural change but that through good consulting we at QuantumPM tried our best to fuse the change in technology (installing Project Server) with longer term changes in culture and process.

Oh and also, I dont think anyone was trying to say that culture and technology were opposites. I know I was not saying this at least. I think the point I was making and the one that I think others were making was that they are not the same. You cannot substitute a technological solution for a problem that really needs a cultural one.

I find the question not only NOT bogus but in my experience in the field deploying technology, I find it of KEY importance for software consultants to keep in mind. They are called upon to deploy a technology but if they want that technology to succeed they cannot ignore the cultural\process side of the house.



Maybe diagramming the sentence will help get my point across. "We use PROJECT SERVER(a technology) in our COMPANY (a culture) to MANAGE (a process) our projects."

Now, which of these is a verb which implies action? Can you see why focusing on technology and culture leaves out the point of the sentence?

I'm not saying you are wrong in your article. I'm just saying you are letting yourself verbize the nouns :-)

It is very helpful to point out to people that buying some software is not sufficient. But I think that the reasons why it is not sufficient is not an issue of technology or culture, but rather because it does not include process. There is no verb in the sentence.

Once you have determined the nouns (defined the requirements) good project management is all about the verbs. There is no such thing as a cultural or technological solution. It is a false dichotomy. Think about it.

I see what you are saying but when I say culture I am not meaning 'company'. I am talking about the underlying trust relationships, lines of communication, traditions and such that are neither the company or the process or the technology. In my article I made the mistake of saying culture and process were the same thing. That was wrong. Any solution to any problem at a company needs to have taken into account the culture within the company in order to be fully seccessful at solving that problem.

You could have two companys the same size, same product produces,etc. You could impose the same processes and technology to support those processes and have two VERY different outcomes. The reason? Culture. In one organization there are communications and trust relationships that will allow the processes and technology to be fully utilized. In the other there are poblems with trusting how the data will be used and issues with how communication happens. One may be much more resistent to change because of "the way it was always done".

When I say 'culture' Im referring to a concept that encompasses the "sociology" of the company and also a little bit about how their current processes work\dont work.

While the idea of a purely cultural solution is, I agree, not possible I read the things Hugh had to say to be addressing the need to take culture into account. It is also very possible that when he said Culture. He really meant process. :-)


Aha! you are coming around. Yes culture is different from place to place. If it weren't different here and there we probably wouldn't have a word to describe as it would be implicit.

I completely agree that you must pay attention to culture. A fundamental design principle is to take environment into account. You also have to take into account how things might be used in ways other than the way they are designed.

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