The Concept of Open Allocation

In software development methodologies, Open Allocation means people choose what they work on. Open Allocation is not a free-for-all. In fact, it increases individual accountability because no one has the excuse of being put on a bad project or landing under a shitty boss. If you fail to make an impact in an open-allocation shop, it’s on you. You had the same opportunities to succeed as everyone else.

No one can force you do something, unless it’s an existential issue for the company. On the flip side, you can’t force other people to do things. If you have an idea that can add value to the firm and people will follow you, you can do it. You don’t have to be a “manager” to start an initiative. If you’re not ready to lead, you follow. There’s no stigma associated with following (which most people will), and you’re expected to follow if you’re not ready to lead.

In a closed allocation system, people compete for the right to work on good ideas, while in an open allocation system, ideas compete for the right to have people work on them. When open allocation is in play, projects compete for engineers, and the result is better projects. When closed allocation is in force, engineers compete for projects, and the result is worse engineers.

If a project is important to the firm (much less an existential issue), someone will want to do it, because even if the project is unpleasant, it builds credibility to be associated with important efforts. People voting with their feet is a great, effortless way to cut pointless projects.

When you manage people like children, that’s what they become. Traditional management is based on the principle that people are lazy and need to be intimidated into working hard. Psychologists have spent decades trying to answer the question, “Why does work suck?” The answer might be surprising. People aren’t lazy, and they like to work. It’s part of who we are. What they don’t like, is the subordinate context and the culturally ingrained intimidation. People are intrinsically motivated to work hard and do good things, and management’s role is to remove obstacles.

Summing-up:  treat employees like adults, and that’s what they’ll be. Open allocation is a radically different system of having organizational leaders communicate the company’s mission to all employees.

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