Put your hands in the air and step away from the keyboard

This post was developed by my technical genius, Phil Romov. Phil has worked for me for almost five years and has solved pretty much every programming problem we’ve ever thrown at him.

Recently Phil was working on a fairly complex custom system we’ve built for a client. The system in question worked fine once upon a time, but then order quantity doubled, creating an exponentially more complex set of data and slowing down processing time. Phil tried to fix the program but didn’t get very far ? he wasn’t getting the results he expected and he was frustrated.

How did the fix arrive? He stepped away from the keyboard and we started talking. We went back to first principles, outlining what the program did and what we were trying to fix. The result – a new approach altogether, which proved successful.

The lesson: Very often, technical people in a company are the only people who understand what they are working on, but when solutions that have worked before are failing they can get VERY frustrated. Management’s response is usually a reminder that “you better get it done.”

An actual human conversation is often far more effective than an admonition and reiteration of the deadline. So when your programmers and other tech-oriented team members hit that brick wall, it may be time for them to peel themselves away from the monitor, take their hands off the keyboard, and have an actual discussion about what needs to get accomplished.


PPI – PowerPoint Productivity Index

There are all kinds of metrics used in project management—burn rates, task completed, etc.— but I think I’ve found the one metric that can accurately predict the success or failure of any project. I call it the PowerPoint Productivity Index (PPI). It’s calculated like this:

PPI = Number of PowerPoint slides / (number of consultants x months of project)

Your PPI tells you the number of PowerPoint slides each of your consultants produces for every month they work for you. The higher the number the more certain your project will fail.

Why are PowerPoint slides such a reliable predictor of failure? Because everything always works in PowerPoint. Programs compile, data is clean, and users understand everything they need to know. That’s why PowerPoint is entirely unrelated to real word concerns. PowerPoint gives the impression of work accomplished, but it’s usually work that will never be used.

A successful project requires that people get real as quickly as possible. This means real orders entered, real websites shown to real users, or real financial statements reconciled against previous years. It’s only when you see the real results that you understand whether things are going in the right direction.

So, if you’ve been working on a project for several months and all you’ve seen is PowerPoint slides, perhaps it’s time to hit the brakes. Tell your consultants that you won’t attend any more meetings or review any more PowerPoints until you see something that looks like a system. It won’t be perfect the first time. But it will be real—and it will give you a real sense of whether you’re making any progress.


My bonnie makes hundreds of entries

Apologies to those who like Scottish folk songs.

My bonnie makes hundreds of entries
My bonnie runs lots of reports
My bonnie is ready to jump now.
The company announced a reorg.

Restate, restate, restate the earnings, again, again.
Faster, faster, I need those numbers by 10.

This little ditty always amuses finance people. Maybe they need to get out more. In any case, I’m clearly not the only one who suffers from requests for ?just small changes? to reports. Changes which need to be done yesterday if not sooner. Changes which ignore the rigid structures that seemed to make so much sense just yesterday.

I’m not complaining. Writing reports, financial and otherwise, is a large source of revenue for my firm. But it strikes me over and over again that no matter how hard people labor over setting up their new software their design is often out of date within months. Indeed, the more complicated their coding structure, the faster it dies. When they go live, they?re so proud that ?Just by looking at that number, I know the line of business, region, counter party, and manager?s mother?s maiden name.? Years later, new employees are amazed that those same numbers mean anything. As someone said to me, ?I was confused because I was trying to figure out why our entries are so convoluted. Now I know that I should be confused and I feel better.? At one client, 150 initial cost centers were setup. Within two years, only five were being used and the client was using entirely different ways of getting key information to management.

There are two lessons in this. First, KISS: keep it short and simple.* Whenever you design a new way of numbering anything, it needs to be simple. Sure, expensive systems are very flexible. It’s so tempting to think that if you get the setup just right, you?re reporting will be so much easier. And this is true?until the boss wants something different or the first reorganization. Remember, pythons are flexible too and are very good at strangling you.

Next, whenever you buy software, keep serious money available for reporting tools. Too often people spend a fortune to automate order process but then have a ridiculously hard time determining how much money they?re actually making on their products. Given that things change so rapidly in many businesses, you want tools that allow you to make those ?small adjustments? quickly and easily.

Now back to work before my bonnie calls again.

*Those of you who know me might have expected a different version but I’m trying to be a nicer person this year.


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