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My company acknowledges that their software developers are frustrated and wants to improve. Among the hundreds of thousands of employees there are lots of developers all across the world. We now want to create a network of developer representatives to drive improvements. This initiative is currently driven by motivated individuals and meritocratic. To represent the masses of developers I believe we need:

  • a low effort way for anybody to contribute
  • a voting process for representatives to turn the meritocracy into a democracy
  • a way to evaluate ideas as transparently as possible (this is the hardest part I think)

We have an internal social network which is definitely the easiest way to contribute. Its voting functionality is not the greatest though.

Any tips? Did anybody try something fancy like liquid democracy somewhere? Is democracy even desirable for this?

(It is totally not a union. We already have that and we are not discussing salaries for example. We can talk tools and processes.)

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      If looking for ideas, check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sociocracy but be cautious. Some of this stuff is actually pretty well-tested, but may still not work for your situation. Employee-initiated cultural change in a large organization with well-intentioned but unclear support from management is about the second-most difficult scenario I know of.

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        Thanks for the Interesting link.

        My personal view is that everybody across all levels wants to improve the situation but nobody has a clue how to do it. This is a bottom up initiative. There are also top-down and in between initiatives.

        I guess the most difficult scenario is with hostile management? What would reduce the difficulty?

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          Cultural change can be tricky even when everybody’s got good intentions and their motives are aligned, because change always involves risk and culture always involves communication across multiple scales and channels. It always takes time, and even when going well it can be a little messy. Best advice I can give is don’t try to change too much at once: try something new within a limited scope, observe carefully, reflect and document, and only then try to get buy-in from more (or more powerful) stakeholders. Rinse and repeat as needed.

          I currently work for an employee-owned company with about 100 employees, three offices, a few remote people. Most of us have a strong technical background, although some also hold management-like roles. We’ve always been highly democratic, but we haven’t always been employee-owned. We’ve grown over about 15 years from about 10 employees to about 50, and then doubled in the last few years, which has put some stress on collaborative decision-making processes that worked well at the smaller scale. There’s a broad consensus that we’re not interested in doubling again, at least not until we can adapt the culture to our new scale. This means turning down work, something not all businesses can afford to do.

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      Robert’s Rules of Order.

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      We use the DACI model at my job and it has proven to be quite effective.

      I am not sure if this has been used at the scale that you are talking about, but might be worth something to look into.

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      What comes to mind is either an issue tracker or something like Meta StackExchange* (do they allow local hosting?), where individuals can express questions and the community can vote for changes they most care about/questions they most need answered.

      In this system, perhaps your representatives play the role of mods, being the go between between management and individual devs. Maybe reps ask questions to provide individual devs cover so they aren’t retaliated against.

      What kind of improvements are you trying to drive? Development practices? Project management needs bettwe communication/planning? Leadership out of touch with realistic schedules? That might drive your solution more than anything.

      • Ironic to recommend their model given that they are having friction between the users, mods, and owning company, but in your case you wouldn’t have the profit motive.
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        Some StackExchange clone is on its way. With the usual speed it should be available in a year or two. :)

        Yes, we have all the problems you mention. Personally, I believe that top management is not the problem but project management is. For example, we need a way to measure technical debt and estimate the opportunity cost to neglect it. “It’s the Right Thing to fix it” is not a good argument against a project manager who wants to please the customer.

        A more technical example: Our internal network does not allow outbound ssh. Everybody working with cloud providers had weird local workarounds. Some worked from home. Now there is an official solution. It is not great yet, but there is progress.