Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Pathological Corporation

The larger the company, the greater the likelihood of pathology. Something about bloat leads to it. It's almost a disease of obesity. Or at least it has a co-mordibidity with obesity. A colleague who works at one of the behemoths where the bureaucracy is beyond belief recently experienced a merger: Ferile Hangman [names changed to protect the guilty] merged with Bank of the Universe and became a doubly bloated blighter. When I spoke to this colleague, I asked how the new situation was  post merger. "Even worse," came the reply, boggling the understanding.

This is a company which worked on one system for over a year and never saw it move into production. The hurdles to comply with were simply too great. Whether or not a system goes into production is irrelevant to those who move at the speed of glaciers. Of course, my colleague moved the code into a production region -- there were just no users! That way he could (without lying) put on his resume that it went into production and was completed.

These are the companies who hire Accounting Firms to help them construct computer systems! The philosophy goes like so "No one ever got blamed for hiring the big Four." I'm sure it's true, but avoiding blame is not a worthy pursuit for a technologist. Or any kind of executive. And going to someone who specializes in financial audits as an extension of the Government Regulatory Apparatus to ensure compliance with all their ridiculous nit-picking rules is hardly the way to attain competitive advantage through innovative use of technological systems. All I can say about these organizations is that fortunately they have been decreasing in number: 8-6-5-4, and I hope the trend continues and approaches zero asymptotically, so that in the limit we have exactly none of these abominations in the technology side of the business.

For those who haven't experienced the bureaucracy  of a pathological behemoth, TheHackerCIO can only communicate a smidgen of a taste for the kinds of daily insults and silliness. At one of them, a major HealthInsurance company, for instance, Disunited Healthcare, there were plenty of documents everywhere explaining how they were an "agile shop."

Agile! They don't even know the meaning of agile. I'd term their development process "Hidebound." If the standard method of years past was "Waterfall," then they were the Angel Falls of the development world. I never saw a standup meeting ever in the place. There were no points assigned, no scenarios, no User Stories, no pair-programming. When I had been there for a few weeks and come to understand their system, one of the project managers led me to a surprise meeting to review his Waterfall style project plan. At the end of presenting it to me for the first time, he asked if I had any comments.

TheHackerCIO replied, "Yes, my first comment is that I am down on this plan for a number of deliverables, some of which I have no idea what they are. So I want to first of all understand what these represent, and then I'll comment on the plan." We then spent a good 20 minutes discussing what the deliverables were for which I had been assigned without ever being told. After which I said, "Now that I understand what the plan refers to I have a few comments on the schedule. First of all, this one item was due to be completed yesterday, and I only came to understand its existence a moment ago. That isn't going to be completed by yesterday, as it hasn't even begun."

At this point all hell broke loose with the PM. "This will throw out all my completion dates, if I change that one."

I said, "We can play this two ways. Is this meant to be a work of fiction? Or is it meant to represent reality? If it's a work of fiction, then it's fine to put whatever you like. You don't need my comments. They will only upset you. But if it's meant to reflect reality, you'll need to revise the dates to the possible. The last time I checked, I was not God. So, I'm not able to complete a task in the past. In fact, a lot of theologians believe that even God cannot change the past, so the only thing open for alteration is this plan you're reviewing with me."

TheHackerCIO doesn't fit in well in The Pathological Corporation. He's not a "team player." Which is to say, he's not a bullshitter.

This is a company whose CIO told the IT department -- at a Town Hell Meeting -- that they were "just a cost center." Well, I'm sorry. But Management is the cost center. And it damn well need eliminating.

I use postings like this to remind myself when I get tempted to go back to a large Enterprise, by some exciting project of Enterprise Architecture. Because it's all a ruse. They don't really want to transform their systems. They only want the appearance of it, to put in their glossy literature for the shareholders meeting.

I Remain Everlastingly,


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