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No Good Deed

August 2, 2009 Leave a comment

Let’s say that the system engineering culture at your hierarchically structured corpo org is such that virtually all work products handed off  (down?) to hardware, software and test engineers are incomplete, inconsistent, fragmented, and filled with incomprehensible ambiguity. Another word that describes this type of low quality work is “camouflage”. Since it is baked into the “culture”, camouflage is expected, it’s taken for granted, and it’s burned into everyone’s mind that “that’s the way it is and that’s the way it always will be”.

puzzle

Now, assume that someone comes along and breaks from the herd. He/she produces coherent, understandable, and directly usable outputs for the SW and HW and TEST engineers to make rapid downstream progress. How do you think the maverick system engineer would be treated by his/her peers? If you guessed: “with open arms”, then you are wrong. Statements like “that’s too much detail”, “it took too much time”, “you’re not supposed to do that”, “that’s not what our process says we should do”, etc, will reign down on the maverick. No good deed goes unpunished. Sic.

Why would this seemingly irrational and dysfunctional behavior occur? Because hirearchical corpo cultures don’t accept “change” without a fight, regardless of whether the change is good or bad. By embracing change, the changees have to first acknowledge the fact that what they were doing before the change wasn’t working. For engineers, or non-engineers with an engineering mindset of infallibility, this level of self-awareness doesn’t exist. If a maverick can’t handle the psychological peer pressure to return to the norm and produce shoddy work products, then the status quo will remain entrenched. Sadly but surely, this is what everyone wants, including management, and even more outrageously, the HW, SW, and TEST engineers. Bummer.

Boomerang Effect

Be careful. Be very careful. If you’re at the bottom of the corpo pyramid, don’t even try to break the status quo. Maintaining the status quo in a staid corpo hierarchy is the number one priority of the people at the top of the pyramid. Why? Because they’re at the top, and they’ll do anything to stay there. It doesn’t matter if their actions, or lack thereof, keep the company’s existing products and supporting infrastructure in the dark ages or erode profits, they’ll ensure that they stay on top. Period.

The only thing that a stratified hierarchy is fast at, is fending off attempts to, and squashing ideas designed to, help the company improve. Even if a major idea does somehow miraculously get initiated from the middle or the bottom, as soon as the hierarchs realize that it may result in sweeping change, the crumbling pyramid will do an auto-realignment. Just like that flexible molten metal robot from Terminator III.

To top it off with an exquisite cherry, the top managers will set an example of the poor soul(s) who started the move toward change. The graphic below shows what usually happens. You don’t want to be the guy or gal who tried to kick the field goal 🙂 .

Boomerang

FAI = Frontal Assault Idiot

July 4, 2009 3 comments

Since I already have a post regarding the FAE, why not supplement it with one on the FAI?

The other day, my friend and mentor, Bill Livingston, rightfully and truthfully called me an FAI. The picture says it all. No more words are needed, except for: “poor me, boo hoo”.

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