Just to get it out of my system

I had lunch with Vinnie yesterday during which he continued his griping about work. Now he’s up against it in a challenging environment, and has good reason to be upset, but his grizzling only served to infuriate me.

Vinnie works for a company I’ve been trying to get into for months. Last time I spoke to them was on Monday, when I spoke to the head of operations. As far as it went it was a fine call. She was a lovely, bubbly person and our conversation covered off the marathon tennis match the night before and we even managed a few laughs. Then we spoke about their situation and how I might be able to assist. Now I know from Vinnie that they have problems. I’ve learned from experience that many organisations are oblivious of the problems they have. Some know it, but don’t care enough. There are some – a statistical blip – who know, care and hope to do something about it (yay!). And many that even if they have problems will never admit to them.

From my conversation on Monday I figured they were reasonably aware they had problems, if not in detail and to degree. All the same, and in the absence of a CEO, they were unwilling to do anything about it just now. What can you do? Like your stuff though, we’re really interested and do call again – but, so sorry, not now. I didn’t quite plead, but I did point out that many of the challenges they were dealing with are those I’ve had great experience with, and I’m here to help? No dice, and so once more I marked my diary to follow-up come late March.

I had just about come to accept that as a frustrating reality when Vinnie reported his latest problems. He’s a one man IT department, and experience much more at the support end of things. Here though he had to take on everything and often was staying back late into the night to get it done. Get this he says, and then goes on to tell me about all the things they want him to do now: do the IT budget for the next year, map out the project program with cost and scheduling info, recommend IT enhancements required, and refresh completely the corporate intranet. I’m listening to him knowing that Vinnie has never done any of this stuff before, has no expertise at it, much less interest – yet he’s been lumbered with it (on top of everything else). Then there’s me, who has done all of that, has introduced innovations into the process, and furthermore is a bit of an expert in the arcane art of intranet building, who was in contact with this mob Monday before any of this – and I miss out. Instead I’m sitting there listening to Vinnie thinking I want to do all of the things he doesn’t want to do. Except it doesn’t work that way. He must but can’t; I can but won’t.

I got a little riled at the sheer inefficiency of the world at that point, which led me to further contemplate the frequent misery of dealing with clients. Quite aside from those timeless occasions when I bang my head up against ignorance or smugness or fear or conservatism, and sometimes just plain stupidity. Fact of the matter is that I can’t do anything without convincing the client that something needs to be done and I’m the man to do it. Fair enough. The frustration comes when clearly there are issues that they refuse to address. Because no amount of explaining will make them understand. Or because it aint broke so we shouldn’t fix it. Or because I’ve always done it this way and I know what I’m doing. Or they agree, but let’s wait for next years budget, or for so-and-so to get back, or the next lunar eclipse, or whatever. Or because they don’t understand a technology they won’t touch it. And have I mentioned politics? Yes, that’s another hurdle to leap.

I’m sorry, but a lot of it is so dumb. There is a simple truth that many in the seat need to understand: even if you have to make it so, it’s a lot cheaper to be efficient than inefficient. It’s cheaper to pay extra to get it right than to pay less and get it wrong. Isn’t it better to make 10 widgets in the time it used to make 5? Or to use 25% less resources to do it? Isn’t it better to introduce those improvements worth 30% in productivity now for a one off cost than to procrastinate for 12 months? Isn’t it more beneficial to get data and analysis on your market, your customers, and your competitors using meaningful metrics using automated tools than to do it by hunch? Isn’t it more efficient to have the information you need somewhere you can find it, indexed and close to hand rather than in someone’s bottom drawer, or in the head of the person who just left? Or to have accurate reports with meaningful data, than reports that reveal nothing? Isn’t it worth doing it properly rather than half-arsed, or incompetently? And so on.

There’s one client of mine. I did all the work in prep. It was exhaustive and detailed, and I even mapped out some of the efficiencies to be achieved if they did xyz, as well as detailing next steps. All gratefully received, with even some excitement in quarters. So, what happens then? Nothing. Not because they don’t want to – they do. Not because there won’t be benefit – the benefits will be great. Why then? Because they don’yt.

In an ideal world they might have engaged me to go on with the project. That would have been logical since it was my plan, I had the knowledge, had conducted the research and analysis, as well as conducting extensive stakeholder interviews. I even had a relationship with the vendors. At that stage I had it all in my head. I knew how it would fit together, just like a jigsaw puzzle. All the IP was in me.

They chose not to do that which is their prerogative. They didn’t want the expense of an outside party and so chose to manage it in-house. Now with the right people properly managed that can work well, but it can also be very much a false economy. Which is what happened here.

Rather than appointing a dedicated resource they decided to spread it out between them as a job in addition to their normal duties. I think there was some jostling too between IT and finance as to what shape and focus of the project should be. Time went on. Months. The available discounts available to them with quick action passed by wasted. Internal wrangling slowed things down, but even so little energy was put into the project. I watched from the sidelines, consulted occasionally on this or that, and asked my opinion of vendors and so on.

More than 6 months has past and no more significant work has been achieved beyond my original proposal. Yes, it will happen they tell me, some time. I watch, bemused, a little frustrated. There’s ownership in these things – you put so much work and creativity into them that you can see what a thing of beauty the final deliverable will be. You want to come true, and when it doesn’t, when it is squandewred instead, there is a sense of disdainful disappointment. It’s not really my problem.

The real victims in this are the users, and ultimately the business. There’s a reason why projects like this are floated in the first place. Bottom line is productivity, efficiency, and money in the bank (plus the small matter of employee satisfaction). There’s been 6 months of waste – 6 months of increased productivity etc, and the dollars that go with it – that wasn’t realised. On top of that the discounts I’d negotiated for them have gone. Plus there’s been another 6 months of frustration for the managers and users having to make-do with an inadequate system. Finally, much of the vision that was there 6 months ago is gone. How many more months will they lose?

The system may eventually be in place, but in opportunities lost there is opportunity cost. And I reckon when it is implemented it will only 60% of what it could have been – frustration, weariness, and ignorance will cost them the cream that really would have made it worthwhile.

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