The tar pit

My hero Mr Fred Brooks wrote about a tar pit. He was referring to projects that just seem to slow down and deliver less and less as if drowning in treacle (and not nice smelling treacle).

But it occurred to me recently that companies get to the same situation, (maybe I have been doing too much fractals recently?)

Small companies with simple chains of command can move quickly. Big companies with complex chains of command, endless meetings, gate reviews, go/no goes etc can’t. At all.

It dawned on me one of my (many ;-)) pet hates is fake bosses. If your boss can’t answer and take responsibility for 80% or so of normal work questions then they are not a real boss. Can I take the day off on Friday? – ‘I’ll check’, Can we use a database for this database, instead of Excel – ‘Let me get back to you,’,

They are the tar slowing the org down. At first I thought they were the grease keeping the working parts of the org working in harmony together, but no, they are the gloop slowing all progress.

I’m fascinated by corporate culture development, I mainly work in big companies and it’s interesting to see how things vary, and what works and what does not. I am always amazed how much professional management is still based on Taylorism. Taylor made huge contributions to industrial management over a hundred years ago, not sure how well his approaches translate to software developers. Well I am sure actually, but as a technical specialist rather than a toy manager its rarely my place to point out.

Do any of you work in a large company that you feel is well managed? (no names, just a yes/no and maybe a why)



2 Responses to “The tar pit”

  1. Jon Says:

    The first company that I worked for as an engineer, wasn’t a huge company but seemed to work well since the majority of the decisions were made in the division I worked for and it was a relatively small division (maybe 100 to 200 of us total). Management had no problems making decisions, even if they were incorrect. I had quite a bit of freedom to do what I wanted.

    The second company I worked for was huge and the division was huge. Management wouldn’t make decisions even if it delayed the project by 6 months, it would go all the way up to |\|@$@ and even they wouldn’t make a decision. It was hopeless. At that point, I decided engineering wasn’t for me. I needed to work in places and do work that actually got done. Which led me to VBA and programming.

  2. Stefan Says:

    Our company is littered with fake bosses, and I’m one of them! Problem is the top bosses are so afraid of delegating authority… Fortunately I’m leaving soon. Yay.

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