Week Fifteen

This is one of many entries in the Change Diary: a true story of success and failure, written as it happened.

Week Eleven: Friday

15 Mar, 2002

Feeling particularly burned-out today. No real reason.

Week Twelve

18 - 22 Mar, 2002

[I spent this week assisting with the deployment of our software at the client's site.]

Weeks Thirteen and Fourteen

25 Mar - 5 Apr, 2002


Week Fifteen: Tuesday

9 Apr, 2002

I'm approaching a critical moment in my time here. Since I've started, I've been uncertain about what form of "Change Your Organization" [that is, changing the organization or changing jobs] this diary would end up demonstrating. I think the next few weeks will tell me the answer. Coincidentally, other contract options are starting to open up.

I returned from my vacation yesterday. My normal duties have been light, so I've been working on a document that describes a specific XP-like process and reasons for switching. I've hinted at this before, but this is the first time I've been this blunt. The timing is perfect: we're about to start several new projects that need this process and the project I'm currently on is winding down. I've been here long enough to earn respect and to gain an understanding of the company and its customers. If I can't make a significant change now, it's unlikely I can do so.

The above sounds a little strident. That's not the attitude I have at work, or at least I try not to. I think this is the best possible time for me to make a change, so I'm doing everything I can to make sure it's successful.

I finished the first draft of my paper today. I passed out a copy to a few people I trust and tomorrow I'll go over it with my champion. I plan to be clear that I consider this paper to be the culmination of my efforts and that it's important to make sure everything's correct. I'm hoping that, with his help, we'll fine-tune the paper and then (somehow) present it to management.

I'm not really sure what will happen or how I expect this paper to help. Previous papers have been well received, particularly the last one, so I'm continuing in that vein. I did a pretty good job with this paper, I think, so hopefully it will have an effect. One thing I know is that there is a genuine need for the changes I'm suggesting. If the organization doesn't change, it will have difficulty dealing with the projects coming up.

So... what happens if this paper doesn't succeed? I have a few options left. First, the most likely result is that there's a lukewarm to positive reaction, but no actual change. I've never gotten a genuinely negative reaction. (Well, once. But that was a reaction to the way I did something, not the basic suggestion.) The reactions are generally of the "good idea in theory, but you don't really understand what we're facing here" nature. Not that anyone's actually said that. I have never actually gotten into a serious discussion with anyone with authority about what kinds of change are necessary, and what is feasible given the needs of the organization.

As I was saying, if there's no real response to this paper, then I have a few options left. I could talk to my main manager about my lack of responsibility and influence. I could tell him that I feel I'm being underutilized. We've had a brief discussion along these lines already, but I could be more pointed about it. Another option would be to talk to the director, the person with the power to make these sorts of changes, and take my case directly to him. I've talked with him once before (11 February) and it was positive.

I don't really want to take either of these steps. I'm not sure why, but I feel like these are last-ditch efforts. If I make my case and the answer is "no," then that's it. I've taken it as far as I can go.

Eventually, that conversation may need to happen. But when it does, I'd like the decision to already be clear... and in my favor.

Week Fifteen: Wednesday

10 Apr, 2002

Went over my paper with my champion today. Got the reaction I expected: agreement with the basic concepts, disagreement that it was possible in this particular organization. Ironically, he talked about the difficulty of change and how some people resisted change without knowing it. :)

I kept at it, though, and eventually he agreed to run it up the proverbial flagpole with management. I could have done that myself, and maybe I should have, but I don't have a day-to-day relationship with the other members of management yet. Maybe I should start working on that.

I did learn one interesting thing: my champion, along with his counterpart in project management, has the authority to make the changes I'm recommending.

I'm going to let it sit and come back to it next week. In the meantime, I still have a lot of spare time. Maybe I'll start establishing a unit testing beachhead.

Years Later...

15 May 2006

After fifteen weeks, burnout was starting to become a real problem. The next four weeks were going to be rough.

Why the burnout? Is burnout inevitable for anyone attempting organizational change? It's hard to say. It could have just been my personality. I've never been one to suffer fools gladly... which, apparently, is another way of saying I'm a cantankerous old git.


Honest ignorance has never bothered me. We're all ignorant of something. I've forgotten everything I ever learned about basic calculus, for example.

What bothered me most was the willful ignorance that surrounded me. The acknowledgement of systemic problems combined with a fatalistic "nothing can be done" response. The brute-force grind, no matter the cost in quality of code or quality of life. The sheer, utter waste of it all.

That's not to say that I had the total solution. I had some good answers, but my vision was blurred by hubris. I didn't realize how difficult it would be to apply those answers. We'll talk about that more later, I'm sure.

Part of the organization's reluctance to make changes, by the way, could have been due their reliance on service income. The company was split into an "engineering" side, which built a software framework, and a "services" side, which customized the framework for various clients. Most of the company's revenue came from services. I was on one of those service teams.

As with other service-based companies I've known, being "billable" was a top concern. If you weren't working on a client's project, then you were "on the bench" and costing the company money. As a result, people were multitasked and scheduled within an inch of their life. I remember seeing one database analyst being scheduled to a project for 2% of his time. That's ten minutes a day; 48 minutes a week. How could he get anything done in that amount of time?

There's a darker side to service companies as well. When you charge by the hour, improvements in efficiency hurt the bottom line. It's a cut-throat business with a lot of competition, so improving efficiency doesn't mean you can raise your rates. Robert X. Cringley has a great article about how this has affected IBM.

At any rate, I was feeling more and more burned out. Organizational change is a terrible, thankless job. Doing it without being asked is far worse. I'm completely serious when I say this: I would much rather find a new job than undertake a similar effort again. Improvements to a good organization are fine. But if you're in the situation I was, and you can't tolerate the organization as it currently stands, start looking for a new job now.

That's what I did. I put out feelers for other job opportunities and got some nibbles. Several serious offers would eventually arrive. The end of my change effort was only four weeks away.

Next: Week Sixteen

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