People who work with computers have always been considered creative types. And the creative aspect of our work has certainly offset some of the less glamorous aspects of what we, as system managers, cope with on a daily basis. In my travels of the last five years I have had an opportunity to discover this creativity, as applied to the management, or lack thereof, of our systems. In particular, I have been impressed at the lengths to which we go to avoid project management or planning.
For some of us, our general evolution as system managers starts with being inexperienced and energetic, perhaps even hyper (if I may personalize here). Eventually we realize that adrenaline is addictive and destructive. We reflect on our mistakes, were punished for our mistakes, or we just come to the conclusion that perpetual frantic reactive mode is no way to live. So we learn to be organized, or at least we make it our New Years resolution. Maybe we even come to appreciate the value of planning.
But not everyone.
Not by a long shot. Some of us were born to be action
heroes, thriving on chaos, most of it self-inflicted. So how do
we do avoid being organized? Let me count the ways.
If you dont
plan, you inevitably waste time, which wastes money. One of the first
revelations I had as a consultant was that money is not a deterrent
to waste, nor is it an incentive to plan. Why? Because the money that
is wasted is other peoples money (OPM). We have
rarely been successful with chargeback the scared
straight strategy of wiping out waste by hitting our users in
their pocketbooks because its not their money. Whose is
it? Its the companys. Its the
mans. It may even be in the budget. But
its not yours and you dont really care if its
wasted, do you?
OPM could be converted to our money if we were given incentives to save. But that would be too easy. True story: Every year in my last job we would prepare a budget. Prudently, I would pace myself as best as I could not to spend too quickly. So I reached the end of one year with money remaining to buy an item for which I had budgeted and received approval. So I submitted the purchase of the budgeted item; it was denied. But it was in the budget, which was approved! I argued. The response: Oh, the budget doesnt really mean anything.
Even worse, there
is almost never any reward for saving money. So we dont. Why
Is there a system manager out there who is not an exempt employee? In other words, no matter how many hours you work, you never qualify for overtime. Uh-oh. You know what that means: Your time is free! to waste. And so it is.
After a morning
of emergency meetings, you must then go back to your desk
and complete all the work you would have done had you not been
spinning your wheels in the conference room for several hours. And
theres no end to it now, thanks to advances in technology. With
wireless communications and a portable PC, you are expected to
provide support anytime, anywhere. Isnt progress grand? And
its all free, because youre exempt. Until you burn out
and leave, that is.
Its sort of
like TCP and UDP: if youre only dealing with small amounts of
data you dont want to incur a disproportionate amount of
overhead, do you? So Ive been told that certain projects are
too small for the wasted overhead of formal planning.
Whats too small? From what I can tell its anything
smaller than the space shuttle. I have been party to two-month
projects that were too small to bother with formal project
management. And yet, eighteen months later
project is still going (just add OPM).
Combine OPM with
the mystery of whos in charge and you have a recipe for waste.
Have you ever been involved in a project where youre asked
weeks in advance (so far so good) to travel to another site, only to
find on arrival that you werent expected? Oops, we
completely forgot you were going to be here today. Or you
arrive and the person you were scheduled to meet with decided to take
the day off and nobody bothered to tell you. Too bad formal project
management would require all that overhead.
Many people like the idea of project management. Its like being a kid again, playing house, pretending youre doing the real thing. So you crank up Microsoft Project (its always Microsoft Project, because it comes with all the other stuff) and you create an impressive Gantt chart preferably in color. Perhaps you go whole-hog and churn out some PowerPoint slides too. Then you hold a kickoff meeting, and you hand out a trees worth of project management documents. Great meeting, everyone agrees. And then nothing.
unfortunately, the real work of project management is a lot less fun.
And it involves people (as opposed to twiddling around in software),
people who can find tons of excuses for not meeting deadlines
some people who just dont care (gasp!). So the meetings become
less frequent. The project management documents stop getting updated.
And youre back to winging it again.
Its hard to
believe, but some of your co-workers dont want you to succeed.
Or perhaps theres someone you would like to take a fall. So we
dont exactly cooperate, do we? Unfortunately, if that person
survives the debacle, they will eventually get even at your
expense. Such are the joys of teamwork. Look for more of this as
companies glom together in increasing numbers.
principle of entropy at work: We werent meant to be organized.
We know whats good for us, but we cant help but submit to
our wasteful impulses. No amount of shame disaster-area
desktop, snakepit wiring closet, even messy database can
reform us. Some of us are just incorrigible, and thats that.
Some waste is inevitable, but IT continues to be especially resistant to the low-tech remedies to waste management, planning, respect for the value of each others time, commitment to common goals. Until we run out of money or energy, we will continue to run fast and loose. In the meantime, consider the joke that eventually every young guy hears from an older guy:
Two bulls, one
young one and one old one, are standing on a hill overlooking a
valley full of cows. The young one says to the old one, What do
you say we run down there and have our way with one of those
cows? The old bull looks at the young one and says, How
about we take our time, and have em all?
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