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coding for the proletariat since 1977

On Not Getting Run Over

My current employer has, in the last three years, been graced with a sudden influx of new business.  Revenue from what was originally considered by many within the corporation to be merely an adjunct line of revenue, has now become the mainstay of the company.  Suddenly we are the leader in this field.  Internally the group overseeing this cash cow is still small, 40 or so people out of nearly 1000 employees.  Through luck, and sheer force of will, our director has managed to carve out relationships with the considerably larger IT, Client Services, and Product groups, necessary to our survival.

Only those considerably larger groups are now starting to catch on that we, the tiny 40-person department, are the keepers of the gold egg laying goose.  Like many corporations this one isn’t nimble; changes in direction come slowly, if at all.  Usually the company has to run smack into a wall before realizing that the former direction was a bad one.

My fear is that our little group is about to get trampled by the big boys.  The IT department is roughly 10 times our size, as is Product Planning.  Once they get themselves turned around and pointed our way we had better be prepared to lead the charge, or we’ll get trampled in the ensuing rush.

Naturally we are just winging it in our group.  Processes exist only in people’s heads.  Nothing is repeatable, and when we do repeat stuff it is never done the same way twice.  We aren’t any more agile than our larger siblings, and we are no better prepared for an abrupt change of direction either.  Our only hope for survival is to document the hell out of what we do, to cement the ad-hoc relationships with the groups we depend upon daily/weekly/monthly, to be ready to hand over the reins of a smoothly running, highly organized process to those that want it.  Only by doing that will we be afforded the opportunity to create new processes and continue to lead.  Without documentation and without clear, well-defined procedures, we’ll be left to clean up the mess, while the bigger departments take over the new work.

It’s going to be a wild ride.

Filed under: Miscellaneous, ,

Network Latency

Yesterday morning I started the IBM Installation Manager so I could update my version of RSA from 7.0 to 7.0.0.2.  Twenty-three hours later the process was still running having completed only 53% of the estimated work.  Obviously something wasn’t kosher.  When I discovered the process was still running this morning my first thought was that the anti-virus software was inspecting the download and causing it to run so slowly.  However, a quick peak at the active processes revealed no virus scanning activity.  After describing the situation to a fellow denizen of the local cube-farm I tried disconnecting all the network drives attached to my workstation.  In the next twenty minutes the process finished the final 47%.

It would seem that here at Widgets-R-Us network latency is a problem.

Filed under: Miscellaneous, RSA

Project Politics

Perhaps the most annoying of aspects of any IT project is politics. Every company, every agency, every engagement has politics. In the best of cases the political aspect of a project is well managed, understood, and used to the greater advantage of all involved. This case has never existed anywhere in the known world.

The worst case results in shouting, terminations, and bitter enmity that survives long after the reasons for the issue have been forgotten. I personally have participated in more than one of these projects.

In the middle lies the typical project scenario. Political pressure of one sort or another skews the objective or success factors enough to make project life uncomfortable, but ultimately a product is created and everyone moves on to other assignments. Politics, as I am using it here, can be likened to non-functional specifications. Just as every project has requirements that drive out specifications, and by logical progression non-functional specifications; every project has people who bring humanness to a project, and by logical extension, politics.

None of us are educated or prepared to deal with human nature or emotions by design. Any understanding an individual possesses about human nature, emotions, group psychology, et cetera, has been gained through often painful personal experience. And very few of us have spent any serious effort figuring out the ins and outs of our personal emotional landscape. We all react to external stimuli; few of us really understand why. Put four or six or twelve people in a room and ask them to perform as a unified team and you likely get an emotional pressure-cooker, primed to blowup.

Emotions that are unexpressed by individuals, or expressed inappropriately are the ignition source for the political fire. Once burning, these issues become the gas that feeds fire, and the wind that fans it ever higher. Stakeholders and management external to the team are put into the position of reacting to interpersonal issues. The people external to the project have no better tools for dealing with these issues than the team members; so the controls placed on the team become burdensome. They only add to the pressure, they don’t relieve it. Since no one is able to communicate fully and openly, no one is getting their needs met.

Stakeholders aren’t getting the automation desired, team members aren’t getting the professional satisfaction they crave, management is frustrated and stymied by both other groups. In the end political expediency is used as a trump card to force a solution on everyone. Management agrees to outrageous deadlines or success criteria. Team members subvert their personal lives and goals to please management. Stakeholders settle for something not quiet matching what was asked for – all because the modern western corporate landscape chooses to ignore the reality that people are just that — people.

Until we can stop trying to do everything politically and start approaching projects from a humanist stance we will continue to have spectacular failures, bitter memories, and emotionally wounded people. The cycle will repeat itself endless until we, the people in the midst of it, change it.

Filed under: Miscellaneous