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The SPI Manifesto - What's It All About ?

It's election time in the UK, and this week the major parties have all released their manifestos outlining their policies and plans for the next five years should they be elected into government. Earlier this year the SPI Manifesto was published; the work of a group of people who attended a workshop in late 2009 in conjunction with the EuroSPI Conference in Spain. The publication of the manifesto appears to have polarised the SPI community into staunch supporters and those who are rather more sceptical about it. For myself, the manifesto certainly raises more questions than it answers, and in this entry I'll try to explain why. However this is not going to be an in depth analysis of the manifesto - although that may come later!

The Facts The SPI Manifesto is a 17 page pamphlet which is structured as three values and ten supporting principles. The three values are concerned with People, Business and Change, and each consists of a context and problem statement, a section explaining the value and a number of "hints and examples". The values are statements of what the authors truly believe. Four principles support the People value, three support the Business value and a further three support the Change value, and are explained as principles that the authors trust to support the values. Each principle consists of an explanation and an example. The front page summarises the values and principles, followed by an explanation of how the manifesto came into existence and what to use it for, and the final page is given over to the presenters, authors and reviewers.

Manifesto or Manifest ?

The dictionary definition of a manifesto is
"a public declaration of policy and aims, especially one issued before an election by a political party or candidate" 
The word originates from the 1644 Italian word "manifesto" which means a public declaration explaining past actions and announcing the motive for forthcoming ones". My first issue is trying to figure out what this document actually is. It is titled the "SPI Manifesto", but in the description of what it is, it suddenly becomes a manifest which, when used as a noun, is defined as a customs document listing the contents put on a plane or ship. Clearly this isn't one of those! Semantics aside, this is the first of numerous inconsistencies which percolate through the document.

Three Unanswered Questions Despite having read through the document several times and having been in discussions with various knowledgeable colleagues I cannot find the answers to three fundamental questions. Quite simply these are:
  • What is the real purpose of the SPI Manifesto ?
  • Who are the intended audiences ?
  • Why was it thought necessary to create such a manifesto in the first place ?
A basic principle of process improvement teach us that we undertake a change or improvement activity in order to fill a requirement or to meet a need. A second basic principle is to identify the stakeholders impacted by the change or improvement. However, the SPI Manifesto, at no point that I can see, addresses either of these principles. And without these critical issues being addressed, the manifesto is left in a state of limbo. In a real life business environment, such a document would never see the light of day without having a requirement to meet or a defined target audience.


An Academic Exercise ? Given the failure of the manifesto to address the three questions I posed above, can we surmise that the undefined purpose of the document was to purely to complete an academic exercise to see whether such a document could be created? Without wishing to demean the contributors, when I cross-referenced the list on the back page of the manifesto, I wasn't surprised to find the vast majority appeared to be academics rather than practitioners. There is a certain irony in this because the first value regarding People talks about the failure of ivory towers in the drive for successful SPI!

Methinks there may even have been an unstated desire to create something akin to the Agile Manifesto simply because nothing existed in the SPI space. Unfortunately it's probably 20 years too late! It is probably fair to say that most of what is written in the SPI Manifesto is available in standard industry texts on process improvement and change management. It may not be as concise, but it is often written in a more appealing way, better explained and, almost always, with a specified target audience in mind.


Missing the Real Target
When you look around at the attendees of SPI conferences, seminars and SPIN groups, it doesn't take long to realise that most of the attendees are either SPI or Quality consultants or people suddenly faced with the prospect of leading or participating in process improvement initiatives for the first time.

Rarely do you see the CIO, CEO or CFO of an organisation, unless they are sponsors or key notes speakers at the event. In fact it is very rare for any decision making executives to turn out to these events. Clearly, they are busy people and cannot take four days out to attend conference. But these are the very people who we, as an SPI community, should be addressing. If I was a C-Level executive and this came to my attention I'm fairly certain my reaction would be along the lines of "So What?".

The trouble is, even as an experienced consultant and practitioner, my initial reaction to the SPI Manifesto is also pretty much "So What?"...
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