Gate Keeper


GateKeeper2.jpg


... an organization of developers has formed, in a corporate or social context scrutinized by peers, funders, customers, and other "outsiders."
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A project must develop good interfaces with the many outsiders with whom it interacts, or with whom it should interact.

Most software development professionals — particularly programmers — are more comfortable interacting with their software and working with technology than working with people. Yet isolationism doesn't work: information flow is important. On the other hand, communication has a cost: communication overhead goes up non-linearly with the number of external collaborators. That wouldn't be so bad if so many interruptions weren't noise. And an organization should be in control of its external interactions rather than letting the external interactions control it; that is a hallmark of organizational maturity.

Therefore:

One project member, a PublicCharacter with an engaging personality, rises to the role of GateKeeper. This person disseminates leading-edge and fringe information from outside the project to project members, "translating" it into terms relevant to the project. The GateKeeper may also "leak" project information to relevant outsiders.

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This role can also manage the development interface to marketing and to the corporate control structure.
This pattern provides balance for the pattern FireWalls, and complements the pattern EngageCustomers (to the degree Customers are still viewed as outsiders).

GateKeeper and FireWalls alone are insufficient to protect developers in an organization whose culture allows marketing to drive development schedules. This role can be made explicit in large projects whose budget and staffing profiles support funding and support for such a role. But the role can also thrive informally in the margins.

GateKeeper is a pattern that facilitates effective flow of useful information; on the other hand, the FireWalls role restricts flow of detracting information. As described in FireWalls, a self-serving person who works their way into this role can do much damage. It is probably healthier for the organization if this role is filled by someone who is not part of the management establishment, because it is more likely that peer support will sustain that person in the role, and it is more likely that the person will remain responsive to his or her constituencies. But respected managers also make great GateKeepers.

The GateKeeper pattern has empirical value. In the discussion of this pattern at PLoP/94, many of the reviewers noted that creating a GateKeeper role had served their organizations well.

Engineers are lousy communicators as a lot; it's important to leverage the communication abilities of an effective communicating engineer when one is found.

Alexander notes that while it is important to build subcultures in a society (as we are building a subculture here in the framework of a company, or of the software industry as a whole), such a subculture should not be closed (MosaicOfSubcultures, [BibRef-Alexander1977], ff. 42); also, cp. Alexander's pattern MainGateways ([BibRef-Alexander1977], ff. 276).

One might muse that the GateKeeper takes an outsider through any rites of passage necessary for more intimate access to the development team, by analogy to Alexander's EntranceTransition ([BibRef-Alexander1977], ff. 548). GateKeeper can serve the role of "pedagogue" as in Alexander's pattern NetworkOfLearning ([BibRef-Alexander1977], ff. 99).

Joe Maranzano (personal interview, 1992) notes that the same person often must fill both the ManagerRole and GateKeeper roles, because of the relationships to external people who need the info.

If the GateKeeper function starts taking on an aura of stability and legitimacy in its own right, it might point to the fact that there are key business issues that cut across the existing organizations. Look at FunctionOwnerAndComponentOwner, as well as UpsideDownMatrixManagement, as solutions that broaden the GateKeeper function to organizational scope.