Due Process In The Workplace
"...the divine science of politics is the science of social happiness, and the blessings of society depend entirely on the constitutions of government" - John Adams Thoughts On Government

(Applying the concepts of Political Science to the workplace is ongoing topic of interest to me. Lately [Note: I drafted this many months ago] I've been been thinking a lot about due process. I can't even make a dent in capturing this topic in one entry, so today I am going to just talk a bit about what due process means, and perhaps build on it later.)

Previously, I've made the assertion that tyranny in the workplace is not due to an organization's structure, but rather the presence (or absence) of Due Process in that organization. Today I want to talk more about this guy "Due Process."

Due Process is someone you first hear about (at least here in the US) somewhere in primary or secondary school -- most likely in some boiled-down-to-boring high school civics class around 10th grade. Always a proper noun, Due Process gets roughly the same treatment as George Washington -- introduced as major character in "America: the Motion Picture." deified and then left largely unexamined. If you're lucky you'll hear some anecdotes about him: "So one day Due Process went out and chopped down his father's cherry tree...", be instructed to memorize the particulars of a few historical court cases where he was the star (again boiled down to ensure nothing controverial or interesting remains), and then promptly forget about him after the next test. If you happen (as I did) to take a constitutional law course in college, you'll most certainly meet him again. And while you'll likely hear a lot more about his role in landmark civil, personal and corporate-rights cases, you might well walk away carrying a diploma and still not really know too much about just who the hell he is and what he has to do with your daily life (as I did).

Much like calculus, Due Process is all around us, but invisible -- part of the foundation and fabric of the mechanisms and structures that define and guide our daily lives. But (again like calculus) because its so woven into the fabric of our society that its easy to go about one's business roundly ignoring it; only to notice when its not there anymore.

There's been a lot of debate going on here in the US about Due Process lately (partly on whether there has been a growing tendency by the Executive Branch to systematically strip it from our way of life, and partly on whether the Supreme Court uses it to make carte blanche policy decisions) but I don't plan to weigh in on those debates here. As I mentioned, I am interested in something a bit closer to my sphere of influence: The presence (or absence) of Due Process in the workplace and in particular software projects and their attendant organizations and how organizations and project teams can use the concept of due process to inform, evaluate and judge their policies and procedures.

(this probably really isn't specific to software projects, but I generally think in that context since that's where I spend most of my time)

The logical place to start learning more about due process was where I left off: Constitutional Law. The Internet is a wonderful place for answering questions, and a simple google search yielded lots of articles and books on the topic. Wikipedia provides a good and accessible overivew of the concept, and how we might evaluate an organization in its terms.

First off, just what does that word "due" mean anyway? Simply put, it means "owed." As such its closely related to the notions of fairness and impartiality. So, a organizational definition of due process might be: "fair and impartial policies and processes for managing the workplace and/or the project." Such notions are reasonably well-established in the workplace (few consider it ok to make it policy that your boss can choose to demote you because your competitor is better looking for example) -- but such a workplace definition of Due Process provides only half the picture.

You see, Due Process is defined in constitutional literature as being of two parts: there is the "how" or "Procedural Due Process" -- essentially that processes be defined and followed, and the "why" or "Substantative Due Process" -- that there are things that one is entitled to as a mere fact of one's existence. Our earlier definition only provides the Procedural part of the equation. Its the Substantive part that is missing, the part that gives the national definition its teeth (and controversy) and what I plan to explore in a future entry. Stay Tuned...