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Software // Information Management

Closed Loop

Mixed Signals, Quality Management, Learning Time

Mixed Signals

I've just finished reading Josh Greenbaum's "The Not-So-Intelligent Enterprise" (July 10, 2004). I'm a semi-retired, mid-level executive with 30 years in the newspaper business behind me.

My last 17 years were spent working for a privately held communications organization that was as dysfunctional as Greenbaum suggests. As a department head charged with the job of "getting things done," I came into contact on a daily basis with those people Greenbaum describes.

People thought I was a nut for suggesting that we hire a psychologist to monitor the mixed signals we were sending to our employees.

Measurement of business issues was done primarily by tracking gross sales figures — to heck with net. If sales could show big numbers, it didn't seem to matter that we lost money on the project. No one wanted to bother tracking all those costs and assigning them to a specific project.

Budgets? I worked hard to save money in the first six months of my fiscal year to offset some expected expenditures in the last half. In July, we were notified that all departments would be "zeroed out" as of July 1, and my budget surplus would be used to offset the idiot in another department who was that much over.

Personalities rule. I'm so happy to be removed from the politics, short-term thinking and goals, and management by idiots. I feel sorry for all those good people that I left behind in the trenches, who really cared about doing a good job and helping the company grow and prosper.

And some executive actually thought that he was responsible!

Andrew B.

Quality Management

I agree with "The Not-So-Intelligent Enterprise," especially the comment on Six Sigma and ISO. I personally have seen several hundred thousands of dollars of product ruined by the use of Six Sigma systems. The technician made sure the charts were okay by adding chemistry to make the Statistical Process Control (SPC) charts match what was thought to be correct — even though the product was obviously bad. I asked him why he didn't adjust the chemistry to fix the product, not the chart, and he said the VP was concerned about the SPC charts.

I've found in my dealings with the new breed of MBAs that they really don't want to do management work — buying an improvement program is easier. They neither have the inclination nor interest to do the hard work it takes to manage. There's no relationship to any of these fanciful improvement programs and reality.

I knew exactly what the product cost and the actual capability of the business. The VP didn't and had no interest in all the numbers but was concerned about SPC.

We could manufacture in this country and be competitive if there were managers who were competent. Instead, we're clueless about managing but very good at running the quick-fix program of the month.

Management Redeemed (Free Press, 1996) warns about the dangers of TQM, reengineering, value-based planning, and benchmarking.

The people I meet seem to have lost the skills to manage in most businesses. I can't understand how a green belt or program manager program is the solution to business process problems, but everyone believes it's the only way. I find it frightening how odd a culture we've developed.

Robert Cruz

Learning Time

I was intrigued by Michael Hudson's lead-in statement "Who has time to worry about the intricacies of every technology deployed in the enterprise?" ("Adding Simplicity," Aug. 7, 2004). I would argue that much of the heartache in software development is because very few people do think about the intricacies of the software tools they use.

Software purchases are sometimes made because tool X is the latest and greatest technology — even though the development team doesn't have any training on it and the purchasing manager only has a fuzzy idea about how it supposedly "automates" everything. The pain in software development is due to two factors: the time it takes to learn the intricacies of the software tool (you paid a lot of money for it — don't you want to know what it can do to make your life easier?), and the time it takes to make the tools work with your legacy systems. I believe the time to develop and code is minor compared to the learning curve to adopt a new tool.

Louis N.

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