Commercial reality

I have had a serious wake up call recently. That whole client-titsup thing is a real eye opener. I’m looking forward to learning a bit more about insolvency, and creditors meetings, might even make some useful contacts (they will all be skint of course having been fleeced by the dearly departed ex-company). Not sure if I’ll need my own pitchfork for the lynching or if weapons will be provided.

But actually what this post is about is the commercial reality that the organisations I work with operate in.

I have always stayed technical and resisted the general flow towards management. Management – to manage, to make do, to cope with insufficient or inadequate resources. Hhhmmm, right, where’s the fun in that????

My favourite management book is Slack by Tom DeMarco. Hopefully you’ll have heard of him, and probably the most highly regarded book on software developers – Peopleware.

Slack has a simple idea: many companies have shed their middle layer of management, in the name of ‘cutting the fat’. What they missed was that the middle layer is where a lot of creativity, and adaptability came from. Being slack enough to have the time to think of a better way of doing stuff, or of just doing better stuff.

That is exactly what I see, crappy models built by people with too little time, either to do a good job, or even to learn how to do a good job. And thats not all – key man dependencies, we discussed this a while ago, but I would say its beyond rife, its utterly universal, completely pervasive. I kind of had it in my mind it was maybe transitive, a short term thing. Now I’m thinking organisations are taking big risks with mission critical processes hanging on by a thread. Deeply dependent on individuals, and often of them working crazy hours for extended periods on a regular basis. And this is business as usual – constant fire fighting and crisis management.
But heres the rub, things don’t visibly go too wrong that often.

Why is that? Are these organisations self healing?, Is this stuff not actually as critical as we are lead to believe? Or is the margin for error (before it becomes visible) so large?
What do you think?



8 Responses to “Commercial reality”

  1. Jon Peltier Says:

    These organizations are blind. They look to make improvements to the bottom line, they look how everything will impact the bottom line today (not looking for the ROI months and years out). They save a nickel now by laying off layers of creativity, and justify it by claiming that “nobody’s irreplaceable”. True, you can replace anyone who leaves, or save another nickel by letting the job cease to exist when they leave, but at a potential cost of good ideas.

    I worked for a number of years in R&D, and we had to plan projects so the plan looked like we’d determine the problem in Q1, invent or discover a solution in Q2, patent it in Q3, and market it in Q4. Well, anyone who’s ever run a research project knows you don’t just plan to invent or discover something according to a time scale, you have to search for it. It’s not like building a skyscraper where you know how much glass and steel you’ll need. But that’s how they saved money, by planning all activities to a most ridiculous extent.

  2. Ross Says:

    >>Deeply dependent on individuals, and often of them working crazy hours for extended periods

    worked 30 out of the last 48 hours, looks like to day is going to be a long one too! Oh the joins of dead lines!
    Maybe i should get on and do some work rather than posting of Excel blogs!!!

  3. Ross Says:

    joins? == joys!

  4. MikeC Says:

    The main joy of deadlines = the whoosh sound they make as they fly by….

  5. Rob Bruce Says:

    Whereas the main /join/ of deadlines = “I’m sure there’s a much more efficient way to program this SQL, but I don’t have time to work on it”.

  6. Biggus Dickus Says:

    “And this is business as usual – constant fire fighting and crisis management.”

    Yes – it came to me some time ago that corporations have decided that keeping Labour costs down for all non-revenue-generating operations is their business mantra….. So in I.T. it is more and more important to get everything for cheap (unless of course it is something VERY expensive (like sAP) which is ok ;-)).

    Unfortunately for this to happen without, as you say, putting key processes at serious risk, requires planning at the IT and LOB process level – and this doesn’t happen in nearly ALL circumstances.

    While the Corporate Non-IT managers drive IT costs down, they refuse to accept that they might have to be less demanding in the ad-hoc, brain-fart changes that they dream up regularly. Spreadsheets have been able to handle much of these requests until now but as there is more and more data available, as the colours and charts get sexier and sexier, as the bosses use Web Pages that are designed for thousands or millions of users (that can justify the expense of getting things right), they come to US and ask US to emulate all that – in our spreadsheets, yesterday, for cheap (or less).

    This is simply not sustainable and is going to kill not only us, but also many corporations and maybe even Microsoft Excel itself. I also see no way this is going to get fixed.

    So while there is business opportunity for us out there wrapped around this, we have to take it all as calmly as possible or we will be dead men (mentally, emotionally, physically and/or maritally).


  7. Simon Says:

    Agreed Dick
    We have a difficult balance to provide a service we are happy with at a price the client is willing to pay, in a time frame they are willing to wait.
    All of those things are moving in the wrong direction. Business-wise it looks a little like a poison chalice to me, it might soon be time to part exchange some my customers for some with a more realistic view, and if that means changing technology then so be it, I reckon.

  8. Biggus Dickus Says:


    Have a safe trip – see you Sunday night or Monday morning in MicroMecca….


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