Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Development Obstruction Layer Examples

The key to a development obstruction layer is to make it increasingly difficult for your techies to do their jobs, thus giving them less time to work out where the blame lies for the failure that's virtually omnipresent in the organisation. When an organisation reaches the mistrust point, the size where nobody can truly trust anybody else (and where untrustworthy people are sucking some parts of the company dry), the obstruction layer can be set up without anybody actually noticing. All that they will notice is that life is no longer as simple as once it was.

Ironically, the obstruction layer is often obfuscated by a style of guerrilla management which claims to cut through the bullshit and get the job done when, in fact, managers simply step in occasionally to make a series of outrageous statements on small matters, and then disappear before anything happens. Part of this style of management involves culting, where consultants are drafted in, books are bought, big meetings happen for a day or two, and the entire organisation's hopes are pinned on a fad, which rapidly escalates from an interesting idea to a disciplinary matter for non-believers. Culting is discussed elsewhere on this site.

To illustrate the development obstruction layer, we need some simple scenarios. Each of these is infuriating and necessary to create the correct environment for breaking the spirit.

Organising Transport
This should be simple. You should just tell someone where you want to go and how, and they should organise it for you. You should be able to specify the specific method if you need a specific method, or you should leave it up to the organiser to do it for you, if you haven't the time to look into the specific methods. Here's how the obstruction layer changes that:

You: I would like to hire a car to go to a meeting on Friday morning at 10.
Organiser: Can't you take the train? We don't like people hiring cars.
You: Not really, the meeting is in the middle of nowhere, a train would be followed by a taxi ride and I would have to get up exceedingly early and go to the station by taxi too. I could go the night before and stay if you want?
Organiser: No. We've heard of your sort, they stay in hotels and spend a fortune on room service.
You: I wouldn't.
Organiser: Anyway, you might be able to have the hire car, but could you pick it up at 5pm on Thursday and get it back for 5pm Friday. Then it would only be a day's hire?
You: The meeting is at 10am, some 300 miles away. If we finish at 2pm, then I might expect to be back after 5pm.
Organiser: Do you have to go to the meeting?
You: I could take my own car if you want and you could just pay petrol. I used to do that when I first joined. In fact, I used to get a per-mile expenses.
Organiser: No way. You're just trying to get a freebie from us. Get us to pay for you to jaunt around the place.
You: I just need to go to the meeting.
Organiser: Fine, you can have the hire car and return it on Saturday morning before 9am, but you will have to get your fuel receipts signed off by your manager. I will also have to put the requisition of the hire car through two directors. This should take about a week.
You: But the meeting is this Friday.
Organiser: Well, you should have thought of that.
You: I think somebody should be thinking about something...

Getting A New Hard Drive
This is not the simplest of things. You need extra storage space on your computer and the minimum of downtime. You also want help from the IT guys to fit it and sort it out for you. Ideally, they'll just add an additional drive.

You: Hey IT dude, please can I have an extra hard drive.
IT: Yes and no.
You: Meh?
IT: I'd happily fit one for you if I had one, but all the drives are currently in use.
You: Can you buy one for me?
IT: I would like to, but I'm on a spending limit at the moment. I can only buy things if they're urgent. I can buy small things, but I have to wait until I have an order worth £250 before I can amass small things together. This is because the delivery charge of £25 from our one preferred supplier is too large to accept for small orders.
You: But a hard drive is only...
IT: ... I know, only £50 from a mail order supplier who would charge £4 delivery. Or we could even go to Maplins at lunchtime and just get one but we're not allowed, without special permission.
You: Ah. Special permission. Shall I try to get that.
IT: You could try, but you'll have to go through The Snake and he's going to suggest stuff.
You: Like what?
IT: Like why you can't use less storage space, or compress your drive.
You: But he knows sod all about computers and that compressing would...
IT: ... I know, destroy system performance and not guarantee any more data with the sort of things we store. Try telling him that, he's too busy ordering himself new sat-nav toys.
You: Can't you put a hard drive on the back of one of his orders for the Yoda voices for his TomTom?
IT: Last time I tried that I nearly got the sack.
You: What for?
IT: Misappropriation of company resources.
You: Meh?
IT: It was a smokescreen to cover up the fact that he was spending more on personal toys which he broke than I'm allowed to spend fixing the servers. Do you know what he did to his laptop?
You: What?
IT: It was running slowly, so he kicked it. In the screen.
You: Expensive?
IT: A new laptop.
You: So I'm not getting my new hard drive?
IT: A lot of people just buy their own...

Buying a Book
This should be as easy as forwarding a link to the book on Amazon to someone, or even just buying the book and claiming the expenses back.

You: Here is a book I'd like to read.
Admin: Do we not already have a copy.
You: I don't think so. I've had a look around. Anyway, don't you already know from the asset register or something?
Admin: No, because people wouldn't hand all their books in when we told them to.
You: Perhaps they were reading some or needed to reference them.
Admin: Well, it's very inconvenient. How are we supposed to know which books we have?
You: Didn't all the purchase receipts go through your office? Anyway... we're getting off topic. I don't think we have this book. It's new and I'd like to read it. It will really help me do my job.
Admin: I can't just buy it for you? Not until I know we don't already have a copy.
You: If we already have a copy, it's so useful that someone is using it, because I can't find it. I've asked around and nobody has seen a copy. I need the book, how do I get it? Shall I just buy one and claim?
Admin: No.
You: Then.
Admin: Fill out the book requisition form. You need to state the title of the book, the author's name, the ISBN number, the price of the book, two quotes for how much it would cost to buy. If the book costs more than £13, then you need to provide a business case for why you need the book and what use it will be to you. The business case should be a minimum of 250 words and should be countersigned by your manager.
You: Ok, I can do that. When will I get the book. Amazon has stock and could deliver it tomorrow if we order before 2pm today.
Admin: I'll have to put the paperwork through my manager and then through a director. That'll only take a couple of days.
You: Then you order it?
Admin: No, Sue does, but she's off until next month.
You: Could you do it in her place.
Admin: I'm far too busy.
You: You know, you'd be less busy if you didn't have all these ringfences around what would otherwise be a 5 minute job. Do you realise that this conversation has probably cost the company more money than the book would have cost if you'd just bought it when I first emailed you the link.
Admin: I don't make the rules.
You: Who designed this form?
Admin: I'm leaving the room now. Let me know when you're ready to fill out my form and do things properly.

Getting More Staples
You ran out of staples. In the ideal world you go to a cupboard or shelf somewhere and get some more. Not with the obstruction layer running.

You: Where are the staples?
Admin: Why do you want them?
You: I ran out.
Admin: You're not doing a stapling job.
You: I have a stapler and I ran out of staples. I occasionally staple printouts together.
Admin: You aren't on the staples list.
You: Is this really happening?
Admin: Give me your stapler.
You: Why?
Admin: I'm confiscating it?
You: Where are the staples?
Admin: I locked them away. People were stealing them.
You: I'll just bring in some of my own - this is ludicrous.
Admin: You're not qualified to use a stapler - it's a health and safety.
You: You're a loony.

We've Run Out Of Milk
A deceptively simple situation. More milk is needed.

You: Hi there, is there any milk in this side of the office, we've run out of milk in the development kitchen.
Milk monitor: How much coffee have you been drinking?
You: Personally, I've had a couple of cups today, but I take mine black.
Milk monitor: I've seen you drinking frothy coffees in Starbucks.
You: Yes, but Starbucks coffee is nice, rather than the crap we get here.
Milk monitor: You can have a splash of milk for your coffee from our kitchen if you bring your cup.
You: It's not for me. As I said, I take it black.
Milk monitor: Then you don't need any.
You: I'm making a round for the team, can't I just take a spare bottle across to our kitchen?
Milk monitor: No, we might need it.
You: Then can I buy some more?
Milk monitor: I can't give you the money for that. It's not been approved.
You: What can we do?
Milk monitor: I know. Leave it to me. [Prints a misspelled laminated sign explaining that people have been abusing the milk and firmly but impolitely insisting that people stop being so greedy] There, that should have the desired effect.

Locking Up At Night
You're given a key and you use it to lock the door behind you on the occasions when you've stayed late to work when you're not surrounded by the jobsworth idiots.

Key sergeant: Someone didn't lock the door properly. It was you.
You: I did. I turned the key in the lock and walked away.
Key sergeant: How many times?
You: What?
Key sergeant: How many times did you turn it?
You: Until it locked.
Key sergeant: Double locked?
You: Double locked?
Key sergeant: Yes, it locks twice.
You: You're joking, right?
Key sergeant: No.
You: What's the point. If it's not locked properly with a turn of the key, can't we get a lock that works normally? What's the point of a mechanism which allows you to half-lock the door? Can we get a normal door please?
Key sergeant: No.
You: Why didn't anyone tell me that I had to deal with a spastic door?
Key sergeant: You should have just known.
You: Why do I feel like hitting someone?

Clocking In And Out
In an ideal world you would come and go as you please, filling out a time sheet to make sure that you've done your hours and reported them as necessary for the bean counters.

H&S freak: I brought in a fire safety and obstruction officer, who thinks we should keep a register of who is in the building at all times.
You: There are 5 rooms in this office. People know pretty much who is where at any point.
H&S freak: It's the law. We'd be illegal not to have an IN/OUT clocking-in system.
You: I know countless places, bigger companies, who seem to manage well without it.
H&S freak: It's THE LAW. We've been round with the officer and he's pointed out that we have to comply with the blindingly ludicrous ringfencing that keeps him in business.
You: So what do I have to do?
H&S freak: Whenever you enter the office, you must turn your card from OUT to IN, sign in and wander past a fire warden. When you leave the office, you must do this in reverse.
You: What about going to the toilet?
H&S freak: For a wee, then don't worry. If it's a poo, then you must follow the procedure too.
You: What do you do with the board in the event of a fire?
H&S freak: I beat through the flames to the doorway where the board is, rip it off the wall, hurry out of the fire exit and compare the board to whoever has met me down there.
You: Allow me to provide the petrol for this fire.

Pairing On Everything
Pairing can be a useful tool for sharing knowledge and experience on complicated technical tasks. However, when applied to every case it can be soul destroying and obstructive.

Coach: I see you're currently working out some estimates using Excel.
You: Yeah. It's quick and easy.
Coach: Alone?
You: Yes. It's a simple task that any idiot could do.
Coach: What about someone who doesn't know how to use Excel?
You: Such a moron should not be in a software engineering job... or should use their own time to learn how to use Excel.
Coach: That's very negative.
You: Why spend 3 times as long pairing on the most simple of tasks to accommodate someone who can't use a simple tool.
Coach: Training.
You: Good point... but also a bad point. There's only so much on the job training, at the expense of the more skilled worker, you can do without the costs outweighing the benefits. People can learn for themselves and if they really are clueless, then they should either sort themselves out or sod off.
Coach: I don't like your attitude.
You: We have something in common then.
Coach: You must pair on your spreadsheet.
You: Fine.
Coach: And produce an estimate for it.
You: it's the estimates spreadsheet - you've just created an infinite loop.
Coach: Then you're too busy to continue this conversation. Off you go.
You: Aaaaaaaaaaagh. Where's that employment consultant?

As you can see from all of the above examples, the apparently simple becomes increasingly frustrating, which fosters a feeling that anything simple will always been frustrating. People will start increasingly defending their own ground, which will widen the gulf between everyone, making it less likely for people to ever want to work together.

Thus, management can hide their inadequacy, which would otherwise be plain for all to see. Perfect.


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