Working at an assembly line factory or working in a garden

Ford assembly line

At first, I need to warn you — do not take it straight. It’s a metaphor and a bit exaggerated sometimes. I do not have any experience in working at an assembly line factory and just a little being a gardener, but I do have quite a lot of experience working in different software companies with different organizational cultures.

I think this metaphor reflects quite well the difference between working in a big corporation vs. in a small company which values trust over numbers.

Kind of work

In an assembly line each worker has a predefined set of standardized tasks. Putting it simply, you will be drilling a hole over and over again and putting a screw in the same place.

In a garden you are more creative, you have time to think and see the overall picture of your work. One day you’re cutting the fence, the other you’re fertilizing roses. You have also more satisfaction from your work as you see how your actions impact directly an overall picture. You feel proud when you see the earliest flowers to bloom in spring.

How much proud would you be of a next assembled chip on the computer board?

If you went to the factory warehouse, would you be able to find the exact computer with the board assembled by you? Don’t think so. In the factory the scale is different from the garden.



Time

In a factory you can work different shifts, sometimes during the day sometimes late night. There is an electricity and light, in contrary to working in a big garden. Sure you can get yourself a light, but it is not comfortable in the long run to carry it everywhere with you. Moreover, the plants live their own pace too. They need watering at certain times, e.g. you cannot water them in a strong sun otherwise they would die. You need to adjust, not them. The working time is not that flexible anymore.

If you work on a small project with a few people, you depend strongly on each other. You often need to communicate synchronously and you need to find some common working hours. Big organizations often choose the follow-the-sun model when the work never stops. When you go to bed someone else is taking over your part.


Photo by Jason Edwards on Unsplash

Collaboration

In an assembly line you need to hurry up. If you are too slow you are slowing down the whole line. You do not have time to collaborate. Either you do your work alone or you don’t at all.

In a garden it’s even better if you are patient and don’t hurry too much.

Let’s say you are impatient and you’re worried that your plants grow too slowly. You will water them more often and bring more fertilizers. Would it help? I’m afraid that instead of helping them to grow you would kill them.

A similar case happens in metric-driven companies. When people look at the wrong numbers and push to do more in less time the overall quality of product drops to very low, people are burned-out, staff turnover is high and the knowledge loss is huge.

People have different priorities and change them throughout lives. For some working in a factory has more benefits, the others prefer gardens. Me myself as a software developer I’m signing under the Software Gardening Manifesto.

To be happy for a day get drunk.
To be happy for a year get married.
To be happy for a lifetime get a garden
Michael Argyle

From In Pursuit of the Quality of Life by Avner Offer