Liberrants

Welcome to Liberrants, a blog dedicated to editorials, discussions, and studies of all things libertarian. Don't let the title mislead you; it's merely my attempt to be creative in describing myself as a "hopeful curmudgeon" who embraces the goal of the free, peaceful, economically vibrant society envisioned by America's founding fathers. Jump in! Contribute! Enjoy!

My Photo
Name:
Location: Tucson, Arizona, United States

A critically thinking curmudgeon whose goal, in addition to creatively venting about the imperfect world in which we live, is to induce critical thinking in others. The ultimate goal is to help bring about a peaceful world in which we can all live in freedom.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

More of Liberranter's Thoughts on the Art of Management

It's Tuesday after a long holiday weekend and my first day back at work. As is typical on such days, my brain is not fully back in gear, so I'm not as effective or productive as I normally like to think I am. While I fully expect to be back to normal tomorrow and face the tough deadlines I have to meet by week's end, I'm taking an opportunity during a chow break to share some thoughts that I've drafted in response to an email that I received from the project leader of a task that I provided technical support to for over a year and which is finally coming to a (premature) end a year after I moved on to bigger and better things. The tone of the email is best summed up by the final sentence: "I would like to thank everyone for their contributions to this project! We can be proud that we delivered a very professional application/work and have gathered many valuable lessons learned along the way."

Normally I would find encouragement in something like this; however, this project was one of the most dysfunctional I’ve ever worked on (out of many, indeed most, that I’ve ever done for the United States government). It resulted, for all practical purposes, in our company getting fired without actually getting officially fired. The client basically told us, in not so many words, that our services were no longer required. So for this project manager to sugarcoat this for those of us who saw the worst mistakes happen, knowing that most of them were perfectly avoidable, strikes me as disingenuous at best and insulting at worst. It doesn't help us or our clients, present or future, to ignore our own mistakes and refuse to draw meaningful conclusions and lessons from them. That said, let me enumerate some of the "valuable lessons" to take away from this project that I think are applicable to any project in any corporate setting, public sector or private. The fact that I know these lessons will go largely unheeded, not only by my employer, but its competitors as well is also the main reason why I'm so sick and tired of government clients and look forward to the day when I can stop dealing them entirely.

  • Valuable Lesson Number One: Pick your clients carefully. Megalomaniac bureaucrats with access to nearly limitless amounts of precious taxpayer money are neither profitable nor reliable sources of income, particularly when they: 1 ) don't have a clue what they really want, but somehow know they have to have it yesterday; 2) insulate themselves from reality; 3) refuse to listen to the very "experts" they've hired to solve their problem; 4) are incapable of making a decision and staying with it; 5) run up massive cost overruns due to the aforementioned reasons and then blame the contractor for them; 6) clearly derive pleasure from setting up political gladiatorial arenas into which they push their contractors and support staff, and 7) surround themselves with servile and spineless staffers who won't rein them into the real world before they hurt themselves . In fact, such clients will cost you very dearly in the long run. Let them become some other company's nightmare, preferably your most bitter competitor.

  • Valuable Lesson Number Two: Have some kind of uniform process structure in place within your organization (preferably one with which every employee is familiar, such as SSE-CMM) before you start building a solution for your client. It tends to greatly reduce the number of "aw shits" that occur over the course of your project, the kind that get clients pissed off and make them not want to do business with you anymore. If we had really created a "very professional application/work", why is the client essentially telling us that our services are no longer required before said "very professional application/work" is formally delivered, client organization-wide, as a finished product?

  • Valuable Lesson Number Three: Don't bring people or teams onto your project whose advice and expertise you do not take seriously and have no intention of really using. Such people don't need the aggrevation you will bring them by marginalizing them and have infinitely better and more profitable ways to spend their creative time and energy. Besides, you are only wasting the client's money by having these people on the project if you are not using them efficiently or effectively. This is especially true in that the client is using your and my money to pay for this project, do not forget!

  • Valuable Lesson Number Four: Communicate, communicate, communicate (see lesson numbers two and three, and five below).

  • Valuable Lesson Number Five: Manage your client and their expectations. Contrary to what some schools of what passes for thought would have you believe, you are not doing your client any favors by telling them what they want to hear if what they want to hear is 180 degrees out from reality. The people of New Orleans no doubt wanted to hear that Hurricane Katrina was going to pass them by completely and that they could go on living their carefree Big Easy lives without a thought to their own safety. Mother Nature, unfortunately, had other ideas and made them loud and clear to the Gulf Coast residents in advance before she bitchslapped them with a Category Four hurricane and flooded them and their property in a dozen feet of toxic water, probably as payback for ignoring her in the first place. Your client will be infinitely less upset and expend considerably fewer resources with having to cope with a project-related disaster that you warn them about in advance than with having to explain to their big boss of bosses a surprise catastrophe that you decided was "too sensitive or upsetting" to mention. Whether or not they choose to act on your recommendation is not really your problem; you've done your job by simply keeping them informed in a timely manner and doing your professional best to provide them with a solution. Refer back to the end of valuable lesson number one for what will result from neglecting to do this.

  • Valuable Lesson Number Six: Note the size of the morsel you plan to bite off when you tell your client that you can do their bidding in record time and with the leanest and meanest of budgets and resources. If that morsel appears big enough to obstruct your windpipe and deprive you of oxygen (something that will make itself evident not long after kickoff), you might want to cut it up into bit-sized pieces. Re-evaluate the amount of time it will take to chew, swallow, and digest each piece. Again, you are not doing yourself or your client any favors by trying to build Rome in a single day using Tinker Toys, Elmer's Glue and an Erector Set. This relates closely to valuable lesson number five.
These are just a half dozen "valuable lessons" that are based on my own painful experience. If I didn't have other more pressing things to do I could probably come up with more. As for the somewhat sarcastic and cynical tone of this piece, well, that's just me, as anyone who reads this blog is well aware. It's my way of relieving the stress brought on by having to explain to certain allegedly experienced senior people who should know better things that are so self-evident that an explanation shouldn't be necessary in the first place. Although it was a government client that prompted this post (and thus, one could argue, not really reflective of a company working under market conditions), it seems that all sectors of the economy right now would do well to step back and perform a "common sense" check that will gauge their effectiveness in satisfying their customers needs with the greatest efficiency possible.