Saturday, October 15, 2005

The perils of outsourcing and excessive management

So I'm inspired today by Francis Porrettos post on The Seductions of Management

Let's just consider this hypothetical:

So there's a contract for this company, and the company has literally outsourced their entire sharp end.

No seriously. All their operations, all their technicians, all their administrators, all their develpers, every department that actually DOES anything related to their end users is contracted out.

Even better they're "blackbox" contracts.

The whole company is nothing but middle managers, project managers, "architects" who are actually project managers...

They have plenty of good technically competent people, who have been turned into ineffective "architects" because all they ever do is "manage" and "architect" projects that are outsourced to other companies. Everyone who actually DID anything was either "promoted", laid off, quit, or retired.

Even better, they don't have anyone overseeing the operations of those outsourced companies. They get copious quantities of utterly meaningless reports which look great, they get status reports etc... but theres no actual operational control (hence the blackbox contract).

So the requirement for THIS particular contract is to produce an incredibly important multi-platform solution, in three phases. First phase is requirements gathering, second is competitive evaluation for COTS acquired components, and third is solution delivery.

The whole project was given a ridiculously compressed timeline. The initial requirement was specified two years earlier, to be completed by the end of that two years, or suffer contract penalties.

The project actually got started 11 weeks before the deadline, with requirements and evaluation given 5 weeks, and solution delivery the rest of the time.

Finally after three weeks of conflicting answers "Oh he's the one responsible for that" 'no, I don't have that, she does" "Oh not it's this person"... the team just gives it up as a bad job, and since they cant get directly on the systems (that whole blackbox thing again) they write requirements based on their professional experience and assumptions, and conduct competitive evaluations based on that.

So the evaluation report is delivered...

"Wow, you guys have done an amazing job collecting this informaiton, and getting this evaluation done. We dont generally see that kind of quality work."

The best bit is though, half the teams time is spent delivering status reports, writing status updates and email, updating project plans...

So as part of the solution evaluation, a basic timeline is produced for the delivery phase of the project.

The question comes from the PMO: "Was this estimate in actual work time, or in {insert company name here} time?"

From team: "We wrote that in 100% effort time. We have no way of accurately estimating any other time requirements"

PMO: "We're going to need to translate that
{insert company name here} into time"

The project team was completely stunned by the honesty of that statement.
Okay so hypothetical over.

I've seen it dozens of times, and so has just about any other contractor in a position similar to mine.

Folks, keep control over your operations, and recognize that 80% of all management "work" is simply justifying the existence of the management organization.

I've been an operations manager, and that SHOULD be a real job. Of course maybe half my time was wasted telling the next level of management what was going on, who spent half THEIR time doing the same thing etc...

If there is more than one layer of project management, i.e. you have dedicated project managers managing other dedicated project managers, WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?

You're spending lots of money for absolutely nothing.

Ok I need to stop now before I break something.