Thursday, July 20, 2006

July 24, 2006


The following is a true story; a vintage "Dilbertism." Because of this, the names have been changed to protect the innocent (as well as the guilty). Interestingly, I do not believe this story to be unique and similar stories can be found in countless IT shops around the world.

Our story begins just a couple of years ago in a large manufacturing company in the American Midwest. At the time, the company was interested in replacing two aging, yet important, systems; an Accounts Payable System ("AP") and an Accounts Receivable System ("AR"). The IT Director selected two of his most seasoned veterans to manage the projects, we'll call them "Steve" and "Bob." Both project managers were charged with their responsibilities on the same day: Steve to build the AP system, and Bob to build the AR system. Both were given approximately the same amount of human and machine resources to accomplish the work.

Steve was a very organized and disciplined manager. He found it essential to organize and train his staff upfront so everyone understood the development process, the deliverables to be produced, and their assigned responsibilities. Recognizing the large scope of his project, Steve felt it important to methodically attack his system and meticulously worked out a plan and schedule to implement it. In Phase 1 he spent what appeared to be an inordinate amount of time studying the business problem, specifying information requirements, and developing a rough design of the system solution. Steve's people actively participated in this early phase and thought the problem through carefully before proceeding with the project. Following the Phase 1, Steve's team finalized details of the overall AP system architecture, and divided his group into teams to tackle the various sub-systems in parallel. To complement this effort, his data base people oversaw the logical data base design to accommodate the needs of the whole system, not just any one portion of it.

Steve also recruited the support of the AP Department and had key personnel from this area participate in the development of the system. The input from these users was vital not only in Phase 1, but also in succeeding phases where the business processes were designed.

By concentrating on the overall system architecture and then by gradually refining the design over succeeding phases, the Software Engineers were given detailed specifications which were easy to follow and implement. Consequently, the programming phases went smoothly, including testing.

The core sub-systems satisfying the operational needs of AP were on schedule and being installed with great support from the user community.

While Steve's project was coming along smoothly, Bob was facing chaos with the AR system. Instead of studying the problem upfront, Bob's group began by building a core data base. Shortly thereafter he set his programmers to work building some basic input screens and some rather simple outputs. In no time, Bob had something to demonstrate to the user community (and his boss) to prove progress was indeed being made.

But Bob's group had not done their homework. The AR community was not consulted and requirements were not defined. As a result, programmers were left second-guessing what the users really needed which started a long round of "cut-and-fitting" the code. Further, the integrity of the data base came into question. False assumptions were made about calculated data elements which cascaded throughout the program code. In addition, data validation rules were not established. This forced the programmers to invent their own rules and formulas for calculations in each of their programs which led to data redundancy issues and even bigger headaches for the development staff. As users were given glimpses of the programs by Bob, data integrity issues became an issue and the users didn't trust the information being produced by the system (e.g., calculations were computed differently by the various programs). Bob's group touted the AR system as "state-of-the-art," but the users were not convinced it was reliable or intuitive to use.

All of this lead to a redesign of the data base and programs, not just once but several times. Consequently, the project schedule started to slip and costs exceeded budget. To overcome this problem, Bob and his staff worked overtime to play catch-up with the schedule (which he never realized). Regardless, the IT Director began to take notice of the long hours Bob and his team were putting into the project and complimented them on their dedication.

Bob finally delivered a portion of the project to the AR department, but in testing it the users found it fraught with errors. To overcome this problem, Bob's group was ever ready to jump in and modify the code as required. Even though the users found the programs buggy, they commended Bob for how quickly his group would be able to fix them.


The difference between Steve and Bob's groups were like night and day. While Bob operated under a "helter-skelter" mode of operation, Steve's group operated quietly and began to deliver the system on time and within budget, much to the user department's satisfaction.

Steve understood the enormity of the system and its importance to the company, and, as such, took the time to organize and train his group accordingly. Bob also understood the importance of his application but took the tact of producing something management and the user community could "touch and feel" thereby demonstrating something was happening in his department, right or wrong. Further, his SWAT team approach to putting out fires made him a favorite with corporate management. As a result, Bob enjoyed a high profile in the company while Steve was a relative unknown.

Unfortunately, Bob's project ran amok, unbearably so. Recognizing he had to do something radical in order to get Bob's project back on track, the IT Director made an unusual move; he swapped Steve and Bob as project managers. Steve was charged with cleaning up Bob's mess, and Bob was charged with finishing Steve's project. Offhand it sounded like a shrewd move. Steve had proven to the IT Director he could get things done, regardless of the application size. And the IT Director figured Bob could simply close-out the AP project. The IT Director figured wrong. While Steve started the arduous task of bringing organization and discipline to the AR system, Bob quickly dismantled Steve's organization and brought chaos to the AP system. This did not sit well with a lot of people, particularly Steve's former project team who felt they had grasped defeat from the jaws of victory. Steve was also growing disenchanted as he had almost completed one system and was now charged with cleaning up his predecessor's mess. To add insult to injury, because of Bob's high profile status, he was given an increase in pay and job promotion, and Steve didn't receive likewise.

Steve got the AR system back on track and finally implemented it much to the satisfaction of all concerned. Bob lost control of the AP system almost immediately and it spun out of control until Steve was finally called back in to finish it. Not knowing what to do with high-profile Bob, the IT Director made the classic move of promoting Bob and transferring him to another area where he could do no harm.


Is there a happy ending to this true story? Not for Steve. Although he cleaned up the mess and ultimately managed both projects to a successful conclusion, he became disenchanted with how he had been treated by the company. Subsequently, he left and started his own consulting firm who was ultimately hired by his old company to develop new systems (at substantially higher rates). As for Bob, he enjoyed the perks and pay resulting from his new position for quite some time. Eventually, he got the hint and moved on to another company where he made a similar name for himself.

Although Bob was a fine example of the "Peter Principle" (rising above your level of competence) he recognized results were not necessary on the road to success but rather, image was everything. He learned early on that "the squeaky wheel gets the oil."

As I mentioned at the outset, this is not a random incident, but one that could probably be told by a multitude of corporations who have "promoted the guilty, and prosecuted the innocent."

Have you got a similar story? Please do not hesitate to send them to me.

OUR BRYCE'S LAW OF THE WEEK therefore is...
"Beware of your 'firefighters,' they are probably your chief arsonists."


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Folks, we've just released a new book on management entitled, "The Bryce is Right! Empowering Managers in today's Corporate Culture." This is a frank and candid description of the state of the art in management and includes essays on the problems in management today, along with some pragmatic advice on how to deal with them. Basically, this is a condensed course in management. As such, it is suited for managers, either those aspiring to become a manager or for those who need a refresher course. It will also be of interest to young people entering the work force, and is excellent for college curriculums.

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The British Academy of Management will be holding their 2006 Conference at The Waterfront Hall and Hilton Hotel, in Belfast, Northern Ireland on September 12th-14th. For information, contact Clare Saunders in their London office at +44 (0)20-7383-7770 or visit their web page at:

The Society for Information Management will be holding their SIMposium 2006 on September 17-20 at the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas, Texas. For information, contact SIM headquarters in Chicago at 312/527-6734

The International Institute of Business Analysis will be holding their Business Analyst World conference at the Boston Marriott in Burlington, MA on October 30th through November 2nd. This will be followed by a similar meeting in Chicago, IL at the Crowne Plaza O'Hare on November 13th - 16th. For information contact the IIBA at 888/443-6786 x 228 or visit their web site at:

If you have got an upcoming IRM related event you want mentioned, please e-mail the date, time and location of the event to


Friends, I don't know if you've seen it yet, but we've added a Frapper map to the "Management Visions" web site. Frapper is a free mapping service offered by the folks at Rising Concepts, LLC, and allows you to plot yourself on a worldwide map. This is a great way to keep track of our listeners and I encourage you to try it out through our web page or by clicking HERE.


I went back for my 30th High School reunion in Cincinnati a few years ago. I went back for the 20th also and it was interesting; most of the people were still trying to impress each other as to how successful they had become. I also found it amusing to see how those who were heavy into drugs during high school had all found Jesus. Nonetheless, it was a lot more casual at our 30th reunion. Nobody was trying to impress anyone anymore, except to show pictures of their kids graduating from college, getting married, or their first set of grand kids. In a way, it reminded me of the camaraderie we shared while in high school.

Something that caught me off guard though, was an old friend of mine who played fullback on our football team, confided in me that he was getting ready to retire. Being only 48 at the time, this caught me completely off guard and I looked at him incredulously. It was the first time I had heard the word mentioned among guys my age. I had not really given it much thought. I'm sure we'll all eventually retire at some point, but at 48? Yea, my friend was going to sell his house in Cincinnati and move to Phoenix where it was warmer with a very nice pension from Proctor and Gamble where he worked.

The idea of retirement is a strange one for me. My grandmother worked as a secretary in an architect's office into her 80's when the architect finally retired and closed the office. My parents never retired either, so I guess it is a bit odd for me to think about retirement. I've been lucky so far, I've enjoyed my work and can't imagine totally giving it up. I have an illustrator friend from high school who feels the same way I do. You've probably seen his work in a lot of national magazines and book covers; he also does the back cover of the Readers Digest. To him, his artwork is a natural extension of his life and he'll probably continue to do so until he drops over, not because he has to, but because he wants to.

Some people believe life begins at retirement. I don't. I see it as the beginning of the end. As Malcolm Forbes said, "Retirement kills more people than hard work ever did." I realize not everyone shares my view on this, but then again a lot of people have been working at jobs for years they never truly liked and were only there to collect a paycheck. I guess I see my professional life as a natural extension of my personal life. Frankly, the thought of retirement is repugnant to me. I like conducting business with different companies all over the world, and meeting new people. It stimulates and challenges me. Retirement? Forget it.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.


We're pleased to announce the release of a new book on our "PRIDE" Methodologies for IRM. Actually, we've created two versions of the same book, an eBook version (in PDF format), and an Audio Book (in MP3 format). Both compliment the Internet version available through our corporate web site. The eBook version is 363 pages in length and includes full tutorials on Enterprise Engineering, Systems Engineering, Data Base Engineering, and Project Management, complete with examples and a quick navigation to guide you through the book. The Audio Book is an abridged version which includes over nine hours of audio. The eBook version is priced at $49 plus tax, the Audio Book is priced at $54 plus tax, and a discounted packaged price for both is $93 plus tax. The book is excellent for both corporate developers as well as at the university level where it complements a college curriculum.

Summers Hagerman of Cincinnati says, "This book provides management with a complete set of powerful tools for managing the largest information systems projects."

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I received an e-mail from a Bernie DeMarco in Chicago who wrote me regarding last week's essay entitled, "Understanding Information."
Bernie writes:

"I was somewhat taken aback by your slang in last week's broadcast. But looking past it I see what you were driving at. And, Yes, I have met a lot of HSA's out there."

Thanks Bernie for your note,

Yes, I am reminded of a story of an IT Director of a large shoe company who was approached by the Sales Manager for some assistance. Dutifully he sent one of his senior analysts to help the manager. Basically, the manager asked the analyst to produce a report showing shoe sales for the last year by model, size, color, etc. The analyst thought about it for a minute and figured a quick and dirty way to dump out the data from the data base, sort it, and print out a report that ended up being approximately one foot thick.

The IT Director stopped by the Sales Manager's office on the following Monday to see if the analyst had taken care of him. He said, "Yes," and heaped praise on the analyst for his fine work. The manager pointed proudly at the printout the analyst had produced.

The IT Director asked the manager how he was planning to use the voluminous document. The manager explained that he took it home over the weekend, poured over the numbers and produced a line chart showing sales trends.

"Did you explain that to the analyst?" asked the IT Director.

"No" answered the sales manager.

"Are you aware that we could have produced that report for you and saved you your weekend?" asked the IT Director.


Here is a vintage example of how analysts typically ask the wrong questions. Instead of properly analyzing the business problem, we tend to produce too much data and not enough information, and waste a lot of people's time in the process.

As an aside, we provide a handy form for documenting Information Requirements in the "PRIDE" Methodologies for IRM. You can get a free copy of it from our web site; click HERE.

Again, Thanks for your e-mail. Keep those cards and letters coming.

MBA is an international management consulting firm specializing in Information Resource Management. We offer training, consulting, and writing services in the areas of Enterprise Engineering, Systems Engineering, Data Base Engineering, Project Management, Methodologies and Repositories. For information, call us at 727/786-4567. For a complete listing of my essays, see the "PRIDE" Special Subject Bulletins section of our corporate web site.

Our corporate web page is at:

Management Visions is a presentation of M. Bryce & Associates, a division of M&JB Investment Company of Palm Harbor, Florida, USA. The program is produced on a weekly basis and updated on Sundays. It is available in versions for RealPlayer, Microsoft Media Player, and MP3 suitable for Podcasting. See our web site for details. You'll find our broadcast listed in several Podcast and Internet Search engines, as well as Apples' iTunes.

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Copyright © 2006 by M&JB Investment Company of Palm Harbor, Florida, USA. All rights reserved. "PRIDE" is the registered trademark of M&JB Investment Company.

This is Tim Bryce reporting.

Since 1971: "Software for the finest computer - the Mind."



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