Sunday, December 24, 2006

All I Want For Christmas...

I've been to three holiday parties where most of the attendees were Intel employees. One thing is certain when you get together with a large number of Intel people: there is going ot be a lot of work discussion. After having heard some stories and spoken to many employees outside of my typical circle, here's are some things I would like to see changed in 2007. These are small items, which could easily be delivered.

1. No more monthly status reports (MSRs) in IT.
Out of all the things I could ask for, you're probably wondering why writing a monthly status would be such a big issue. Well, it's because it's a time consuming task that is completely pointless. My December MSR was due on the 7th of the month. For October and November it was due on the 10th. How can you label a status report "December" when 75% of the work it covers was done in November?

Most of Intel quit writing MSRs at least a year ago. They had degenerated into personal marketing documents that everyone sent around to everyone else, and that nobody particularly wanted to read. You send an MSR to your boss. He combines all those from his team, adds his own stuff, and sends one to his boss. And so on up the chain until you see MSRs from the top level managers. But all this rolling up of status reports takes time, and each management layer wants a few days to work on their own MSR. In no reasonable scenario can I conceive how an MSR needs to be due before the middle of the month.

Since my November MSR was also due before the 10th, I do have about a full month's worth of accomplishments in my December status. But by the time the IT VP rolls out his status, some of the work I mentioned in mine will be about 7 weeks old. What's the point? We take time to write a report that nobody really reads, and that doesn't give any critical information. If you need some project indicators, have people roll those up monthly or quarterly. We all have quarterly goals. If you want a brief status against those, I'd be happy to comply, especially since I'm already doing that anyway, in addition to my MSR.

And now let's get to the part this whole nuisence that really bothers me: we're supposed to be in the middle of a big corporate efficiency effort. How is having everyone write a brag sheet every month and then taking 3 weeks to roll it up to the top levels helping to run the company, or in any way efficient? I'm sure some of you are thinking "but how much time could it take. Just scratch out a few lines and call it good." Here's a summary of two conversations I recently had with my manager about MSRs:

Boss: We're getting complaints that people are spending too much time working on their MSRs. Look, these should be really simple and straightforward.
Me: Well, I know you like it a certain way, and doing that takes time. I'm spending at least 45 minutes on mine.
Boss: That's way too much time. If you can't do it in 15 minutes you're spending too much time on it.

2 weeks later

Boss: Your status really wasn't very good this month. It took me a long time to parse out what you had written for my own status report. I need you to do a better job writing your status so I don't have to spend as much time on mine. Ideally I could just cut and paste what you wrote into my status.
Me: OK boss, sorry about that.

JJ, please do us a favor and kill off status reports in IT.

2. Allow people to attend staff meetings for their managers.
This is a new one for me. I just learned about this at a party this weekend.

There is a long (and good) tradition at Intel of managers picking someone on their team to cover for them when they are out. This allows the manger to feel that things will be taken care of, and it's a great opportunity for someone on their staff get better exposure, visibility, and experience. It's often used as a way to groom people. So if an IT staff member had someone on their team cover for them, that person would typically attend IT staff meetings and be interacting with their boss's peers.

But the CIO has apparently decided that he doesn't want anyone attending IT staff meetings who is not already on IT staff. The reason he gave was that someone covering might feel intimidated and not speak up, and they they might not know the answers to some questions. That's absolutely true. But it's also the whole point of having someone cover. It's an opportunity for them to see how they might intereact with more senior managers. It doesn't matter if they have all the right answers. If a permanent member of staff doesn't know the answer to a question, do you kick them out? No, you ask them to find the answer.

He said that instead, he would prefer to have staff members find peers, other IT staff members, to cover for them. Who has a better chance of looking out for a group of people: someone who works for the manager, or someone who is competing with that manager? I think the CIO and his staff might be overthinking this. This is simply one of the silliest management decisions I've ever heard of, and the more I think about it, the more silly it sounds.

There is of course the concern about someone hearing something when covering for their boss, but that is handled easily by just asking the person to step out of the room if the discussion or agenda moves to a topic they should not hear. We do this all the time, and it's just about that easy: "Bob, could you please step out while we discuss focal results? Check back in an hour to see if we're done." This is typically only necessary when discussing focal, salaries, or HR issues.

Following the CIO, most of IT staff also decided that none of their staff should cover staff meetings for them for them either. (Interestingy, I haven't heard about this from my boss.) So those of you in IT who cover for your bosses, you won't be attending any staff meetings for them any time soon because you might hear something inappropriate, because you're too intimidated to answer questions.

The reasons given for this policy don't make any sense. It smacks of JJ not trusting us and putting up a firewall between his staff and the rest of IT.

3. Sr. management to speak honestly about why no Sr. managers were fired this year.
For much of the year, Intel employees have been asking via blogs, in open forums, and coversationally why the people responsible for overstaffing Intel aren't being held accountable. Initially there were no answers. And then we starting getting some vague answers like "we all made mistakes, and we learned from them." This is just bullshit. The problem could have come from the very top; maybe Craig sent unresonably high staffing goals. And I don't expect the board to do anything about that. But there are also dozens of mid and senior level managers who blantly practiced empire building. They schemed and oversoldelse to grow their groups to the largest possible size for their own good, not for the good of the company.

Go find those managers with less than 100 people calling themselves "Director" of something and you'd have a good start on rounding up the worst offenders. Since senior people obviously aren't getting fired or demoted, it would be nice to know who is being held accoutable for the mess that was created.

4. Quit telling us how hard it was to fire people.

This last one is really easy. Senior mangers, including Paul and many VPs, need to quit mentioning how hard it was to fire people this year. I'm sure it was hard. But you know what has even harder? Actually getting fired. Next to that would be knowing that you may be fired, but having to wait 4 months to find out if you needed to start looking for another job. Those of you saying "it was the hardest thing I've ever had to do" never had your jobs at risk, and you're probably the people responsible for creating the situation that required the lay offs. You guys don't get to play the sympathy card. So please stop doing it.


Anonymous said...

Consider yourself lucky. We (another Intel group) file status reports weekly.

Chris said...

1. I suggest you modify your report to have some real meat, do it weekly or stop reporting to anyone at Intel altogether.
2. & 3. I have no idea.
4. I appreciate knowing how they feel about the difficulties of their jobs and appreciate them having the courage to speak about it.

Intel IT Guy said...

anonymous and chris, thanks for the comments. I actually prefer doing weekly status reports. They are timely and address issues in a timely manner. But I don't have the option. My boss doesn't want them and doing weeklies doesn't make it any easier to write an MSR my manager can cut and paste.

My MSR has plenty of "meat" to it. It's just superfluous. I didn't mention this, but I also write two other MSRs for programs that I manage. My customers get everything they want from those. I give updates on my quarterly deliverables (MBOs) twice a quarter, so my boss knows what I'm up to. Given this, I just can't see the value in an MSR.

Anonymous said...

As a manager, I require all of my direct reports to submit weekly status reports and cc all of their peers when it is sent. This is helpful to keep everybody in the loop regarding all key results. Also, this would limit taking credit for other people's work, embelishment of accomplishments, etc., which I have seen in my many years at Intel.

Anonymous said...

I have only been at Intel for a few years. Any comments about the new Focals changes announced this week? Thanks.

Intel IT Guy said...

Focal is playing out about the way I expected it to based on the rumor mill. Managers are essentially ranking their teams independently and then rolling up to the next level. I expect that we'll still need to hit targets. I think this is an improvement over the previous process and it should save a lot of time for managers. The results for non-managers should look the same.

Anonymous said...

1) I'm beginning to think maybe you work for me. Your MSR is a good way to consider what you have done for the past month and should serve as good data to track your contributions. In a way the process is more important than the finished product. In general written English skills are abysmal in IT. Trust me, many need the practice. The date thing is a fair gripe, maybe we should just number the reports 1-12 and forget about which calendar month they're associated with.
2) Haven't heard this, but it sounds like petty detail on the part of IT mgmt. There may be times when it's not appropriate but usually not a big deal.
3)Actually I know some that did go. Was it enough? Probably not. I think in general Intel would benefit from donating some execs to other co's.
4)Agree. Especially when you read about insider share trades on Yahoo! When you're a multi-millionaire it's tough to relate. How sad.

Intel IT Guy said...

I may indeed work for you. And if know who I am, let me just say that that your wisdom and sense of fairness are exceeded only by your business acumen and good looks. I'm sure you'll take good care of your team during focal this year. btw, that anonymous gift in your office is from me.

If you think people in IT need to improve their writing skills (I don't disagree) perhaps they should take a class. Or maybe start a blog. I'm gotten several responses telling me that MSRs are good, but none of them have really explained why giving MBO and project/program updates isn't adequate for status. If you can't track your contributions against your quarterly goals, you need to get some help writing and managing to MBOs. Remember, Paul O. is the one who said that MSRs were redundant and unnecessary, not me. I'm just agreeing with him.