Integration and Integrity – It’s about Ethics!

Several times in my career I was part of former start-ups transitioning to more stable enterprises with all of the pain, the pros and the cons associated with the process

One of these challenges was related to integration. How do you take smart people who are accustomed to writing code as well as delivering cutting edge technology, and explain to them that the old ways do not work anymore?

A start-up company can afford to have teams that are islands, each team with its own product, see Conways’ law. That works well when: the start-up is the forerunner in its field, the company can sell a set of products, or even when those products do not internally interact although they present themselves to the customer as a unit.

Over time, new companies appear that begin in a different, more integrated way. These companies are more agile, and nimble than their counterparts. They move faster, forcing the former start-up to lose market share.

Unfortunately the engineering seems to be disconnected from the reality. Our heads are too deep into technology and fail to understand that we cannot play with our techno toys if we do not have clients to pay our salaries.

I saw endless disagreement over which technology is “better,” or even which is the “best.” These arguments miss the point that the users of our apps do not care if the back end is C++, Java, .NET or NodeJS.

We do not understand that these endless arguments eat important time from business; time that the business needs to focus on transforming itself.

I was reading Doug Russell’s book “Succeeding in the Project Management Jungle: How to Manage the People Side of Projects” when I found this:

There is a second aspect to integrity. Yale Law professor Stephen L. Carter quotes from the Oxford English Dictionary in his book Integrity (HarperPerennial, 1997): Integrity is “the condition of having no part or element taken away or wanting; undivided or unbroken state, material wholeness, completeness, entirety.” This is why the final step in putting together complicated systems, like spacecraft or microprocessors, is called integration. Even the toughest no-nonsense data-only engineering manager appreciates the value of integrity in the sense of wholeness and purity of integration.

These two meanings of integrity— ethical/ moral rules to guide decisions and wholeness— taken together provide the glue that binds the previous four characteristics. You will fail if you try to implement the other characteristics without having thought out your own personal sense of integrity and without understanding that your job is the integration of individuals into a team. This is often why the introduction of new project management processes and tools fail to provide the desired results.

This reminded me of the Aristotle’s “Ethics”. In short, there are three kinds of interests:

  • The Individual – each of us wants to succeed as individuals and desires to be promoted
  • The Group – we are part of a team and the team has to succeed in order for us, as individuals, to succeed
  • The Society as a whole, which in our case is the company we work for, needs to succeed in order for individual success to be achieved.

This is where the ethics breaks in the case of a company who wants tighter integration. The individual and group ethics are too strong and they do not give in to the ethics and interests of the company. These holistic interests are more important in the grand scheme since teams cannot be successful and individuals cannot succeed in their careers if the company does not succeed.

To use another analogy, a company with teams that are too strong is like the European Union: strong countries with their own languages and cultures trying to become a federation much like the United States of America. Fortunately for the U.S.A. it started as a federation with a clear definition of Federal vs. States power. Unfortunately for the Europe Union it may be too late for a tighter integration. 200 years or so ago the educated people across Europe spoke Latin and individual nations were not that strong. Today after two World Wars, hate and killing, a strong nationalism has been created. It is hard to imagine that these countries can be brought together and have their local patriotism harmonized with the consciousness of being European.

While any analogy goes so far, a company that inside is like the European Union has to succeed or else it either becomes assimilated by a stronger company or it simply runs out of business due to strong competition.

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Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Software Architecture, Software Engineering, Software Philosophy, Wisdom

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