• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • You already know Dokkio is an AI-powered assistant to organize & manage your digital files & messages. Very soon, Dokkio will support Outlook as well as One Drive. Check it out today!


Management by objectives

Page history last edited by Andrew Alder 2 years, 6 months ago

A page on human behaviour with relevance to technology too


Scene two


Years ago I was part of a major software development project, about AUD200 million in the days that meant something.


The following conversation took place.


Chris, because of what you did yesterday, the whole project has gone back a week.


Andy, I am meeting my objectives.


Yes, but didn't you hear what I said? Those modules had no sign-off, and they won't get it because they are non-complying. Because you put them into the pre-production libraries, I've not only had to back out what you did, but also a whole day's work of over a hundred programmers. And I'll spend all of today, probably all of the next week, explaining to their managers why this was necessary.


Andy, I am meeting my objectives. If my objectives are wrong then go to my boss and get them changed. But I do not think he will, because if we do what you propose, he will not meet his objectives.


Multiply that attitude by five levels of management and your two year project will now take ten years and will be obsolete before it is delivered. Which are exactly the statistics we achieved. That wasn't the only problem with the project, but it is sufficient to explain the whole disaster.


Suppose you give a person in such a project five objectives, and after a week or two they realise that they can't do it, that one of those five is hopelessly under-resourced, but that they can totally satisfy and even exceed the other four by placing that fifth objective last on their priorities, and probably get a "partially achieved" for the last one even then. What will they do?


Answer: That fifth objective is now their bottom priority. Best not to rock the boat, the messenger is often the first one shot. Get a good report by achieving four and a half objectives. That's a win for the employee, especially as at Annual Review time they can say (dishonestly but there's some truth there too) "Yes, in hindsight that fifth objective was never achievable, I didn't realise that at the time and now bitterly wish I had". The objectives were agreed with the boss, who also had a responsibility for making them realistic, so the boss is not going to rock the boat either.  


But that fifth objective is almost certainly seriously affecting your critical path. So far as the project was concerned, it was the most important one. You wanted it to be their top priority. It's at least a loss, and often a disaster, for the project.


And this doesn't just apply to development work. It's a disease that affects all structures that are managed by objectives, by whatever name that may go.



Scene one


I took the job because nobody else wanted it, for good reasons. I enjoyed my time there and don't regret a minute of it. But after I'd been there just two weeks (and long before the conversation above) I went to my new boss's boss (with my boss's full permission) and said:


I can fix this project, but only if you'll do one thing for me. 


As you can imagine, they were on the edge of their high-status executive chair.


Andrew, that's wonderful! What is it?


Stop promoting people who deliver on time code that does not work.


My boss's boss slumped in that executive chair. 


Andy, I hear what you're saying, and I'm trying.


I'm sure you noted the change in my name! In linguistics we call it a code shift.


What I had said applied to several levels of management within the project. That was the whole point. But what didn't even occur to naive little me at the time was, it probably applied to all levels... including to my boss and to my boss's boss and to my boss's boss's boss. 


They were all playing the game, making their top priority that of meeting their objectives. Those of us who even considered the consequences of our actions in terms of the impact on the organisation were hopelessly outvoted, and were going to remain outvoted at all levels as we were unlikely to be promoted. And it wasn't the fault of those playing the game. It was the game that was busted..  


As I said, I don't regret one moment of my involvement in that project. It was wonderful working with some wonderful and highly talented and highly motivated people, notably and not only my boss and my boss's boss. 


But there are some who say, with some justification, that I should have resigned on the spot!   


See also is your techie fooling you badly and sanity



Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.