My wife has a degree in and has worked as an HR person.  Hate her already? HR is among the most despised part of many companies and organizations, mostly because they act as the policy police.  Almost everyone I know at work hates HR since they don’t seem to help and just get in the way.  My wife knows that HR isn’t very popular because of their policing through policy and would like to see HR engage in its work differently.  In fact, the HR departments aren’t the happiest or healthiest places anyway. It isn’t clear hope much self-loathing is involved, but its clear that HR is a stressful job.  Happily for her, she has moved on to new challenges.

As she relayed to me as we spoke, HR wishes it could be more positive by working to help manage people better. They would apply their efforts to creating a better working environment for people to build and nurture their careers.  Instead, HR carries water for the legal department, and a lot of what they do is directly related to protecting their organizations from litigation.  They get to do this without raking in the dough like lawyers! 

Sometimes it helps to see yourself through someone else’s eyes.  I remember during that conversation with my wife, listening to her describe about how she is perceived at work.  Working for human resources, and being almost universally dispised.  I hate the HR people whereever I worked, so it sounded reasonable.  Suddenly, I realized that the way she was talking about HR sounds exactly like how I would relate my reactions to how people look at V&V.  HR is full of well-intentioned individuals, but acts to bind people’s actions because of various legal concerns, or corporate policies (often in service of legal concerns).  HR enforces the corporate processes related to personell.  They get in the way of emotion and desire, and for this they are roundly hated by broad swathes of the workforce.  They also complicate decisions based on management judgement by requiring hiring and firing decisions to be well-documented, and sound from perspectives far beyond the local management.

V&V often does the same sorts of things.  V&V likes process, V&V likes to criticize how people do their modeling and simulation work.  They like to introduce doubt where confidence once reigned (no matter how appropriate the doubt actually is people don’t like it!).  V&V likes documentation and evidence.  What does V&V get for all of this emphasis on quality?  They are dispised.  As my friend Tim has said, “V&V takes all the fun out of computing”.  Gone is the wonder of being able to simulate something replaced with process and questions.  V&V is incredibly well intentioned, but the forceful way of going through the process of injecting quality can be distinctly counter-productive, just like HR.

Just as HR has realized their villianous reputation, I believe V&V is perceived similarly.  Both HR and V&V could benefit from a reboot of their roles.  HR professionals would like to be sources of positive energy for employers, and quite honestly most employers need some positive energy these days.  More and more the employer-employee relationship has become advesarial.  Benefits are worse every year and the compensation disparity from top to bottom has sky rocketed.  HR would like to be a force for positive employment experiences, and the development of employee-centered, career oriented development.

V&V could be a direct parallel.  The tension with V&V is the drive to get results for a given application (product) above all else.  V&V sits their whining about quality while a job needs to get done.  The product-line for an organization is what the customer cares about, and should get the credit. Too often V&V is just viewed as getting the way of progress.  Instead V&V should craft a different path like that desired by HR.

There is a natural tension between the execution of an organization’s mission in the most mission-appropriate fashion, and completely staying entirely within modern personnel practices.  The policing of personnel actions by HR is usually taken as an imprediment to “getting the job done”.  The same holds for doing proper and adequete V&V of mission-focused computational simulation.  There is a tension between the execution of the mission effectively and refining the credibility of the simulation through V&V.  Both V&V and HR could stand to approach the execution of their role in the modern world in a more positive and mission-constructive fashion.

The whole issue can be cast in the frame of coaching versus refereeing, which parallels managing & leading versus policing & punishing.  Effective management leads to good outcomes through cooperation with people whereas policing forces people to work toward outcomes via threat. People would rather be managed positively rather than threatened with the sort of punishment policing implies.  Ultimately, managed results are better (and cheaper) than those driven via threat of force or punishment.

V&V often acts the same way by defining policy for how modeling and simulation is done.  This manner of policing ends up being counter-productive in much the same way as HR’s policing works against them.  When thinking about how V&V is applied to computational science, consider how similarly high-minded outcomes are driven by policy in other areas of business, and how you perceive them.   When V&V acts like HR, the results will be taken accordingly; moreover once the policing is gone, the good behavior will rapidly dissappear.  Instead both V&V and HR should focus on teaching or coaching the principles that lead to best practices.  This would lead to a real sustained improvement far more effectively than policies with the same objective.