Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Visions of You

Redeployment announcements are done, and we're just starting to see the gaps appear. One issue with this type of redeployment - skills based, done group by group - is that you can't see what the impact will be until you look at it in totality.

For a period of time I lived in desert town that would occasionally restrict water usage. They would require a household to use no more than 90% of the average for the previous 6 months. This system rewarded people for wasting water and penalized those who were already conserving. Most groups in IT seem to have taken a 7-10% reduction in the recent redeployment action. But some groups were already getting thin due to attrition. Going down another 10% in a group that was just barely hanging on is beyond unreasonable. These are groups that were not permitted to backfill people who left over the last year. The groups already in trouble seem to be ones that were hardest hit. How do you run a network when half of the network support guys are gone?

People will figure it out. Others from different groups will step up and fill in where they can. They'll spread out the workload, work longer hours, do some things poorly out of necessity, and then feel badly about it. We're down ~10% with the recent redeployments, we were down about 10% with last year's redeployment, and we must have had at least 5% attrition between the two. There was a smaller layoff about 6 months before that. So I'm estimating that IT must be down about 30% over the last 18 months.

So almost 1/3 of the organization is gone, but what have we stopped supporting? How has the worked changed to plan for, or even react to, the smaller workforce? I haven't seen an outline for a 30% reduction in work from IT staff. I haven't seen any strategy for what we're going to stop doing. I haven't read one word about the work that's going to get cut, the programs we're going to stop supporting, the services that are being turned off, or how exactly people are supposed to manage the gaping holes in the organization.

For any IT staff members reading: Enough is enough. When are you guys going to pull your heads out and give us a strategy for dealing with these cuts? IT has done a good job of managing redeployment tactically; I've said before the actual cutting went about as well as it could have. But I optimistically expected to see something that would tell us how this was going to be handled. Right now it feels like a free-for-all in with people scrambling to figure out how to get things covered.

You are facing an inflection point with the IT workforce - people have just had it. They're angry, frustrated, buried in work, and looking for some leadership. And after worrying about keeping their jobs for three months they now have to figure out how to try and keep the infrastructure from falling apart. Let me be clear: You guys need to cut the work load. You simply can not continue to reduce resources without making the hard decisions on reducing services. Or don't do this and risk seeing attrition grow to unhealthy levels.

Here are a few suggestions: How many content management systems do we have? One of them is a custom built POS that was poorly conceived and badly implemented. Why is it still around? Why don't we pick one off the shelf tool and tell the content owners that's what Intel is using? If they don't use it, their content doesn't get to production. "But they need all these special features." Bullshit. We've already made the decision to use standard tools and technology where possible. It's time to start acting like it. That's got to be worth 1-2% in people and infrastructure savings.

We have too many people doing product and program management. Push that stuff back to the business side, or just get rid of it. "But we won't get good requirements from the business, have good specs, and our projects will suffer." Guess what? We have crappy requirements, bad specs, and projects don't run great now. If we're going to be lean and mean we need to focus on technical work and let the business figure out what they need. It doesn't really matter, because we want to use standard technology anyway. Let's walk the talk already. There's another ~1% cut.

We have more than a few application and data architects running around. They are some of the brightest people in IT. But guess what? There's not a lot of need for architecture when implementing standard tools. Either move them to jobs where they are doing hands-on work, or get rid of them. I guarantee that we could lose 70% of the architects tomorrow with virtually no impact to our big projects. There's another 0.5%.

These examples are small, but at least there are targeted, and can be tied to a bigger goal. This is what we're looking for. Great job firing 10% of us. Now tell us what you're going to do about it. Where is the path to lead us out of the darkness of perpetual resource gaps and shoring up coverage? We need a vision, a strategy, and plan that shows where we're going and how we're going to get there. Resource reductions are an action, not a vision. They're a consequence, not a plan. IT staff needs to step up here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da #2

With IT layoff announcements coming this week, employees are getting more nervous and many people are on edge. The time window is certainly shorter for this round of layoffs than the previous one, but waiting to hear if you're going to be fired is unpleasant in any time frame. Employees are conducting themselves well - I've witnessed only a couple of people acting out negatively. Many are frustrated with the process, and a few are angry. But practically all are supportive of each other and acting professionally. It's impressive to watch people handling this so well.

Similarly, I've seen only a small amount of questionable management behavior. One senior manager sent a long note to his group that said nothing helpful and added no value. He essentially excused himself for not sending a note sooner and then reassured people that management is working hard ensure that people get laid off on schedule. Of course he added the obligatory "this is hard for me too" line. A friend of mine often uses a saying that I think applies here: "if you have nothing to say, say nothing."

With very few exceptions managers have been conducting themselves well throughout the process. This is a job they don't like but that still has to get done. I'm seeing a lot of compassion and better sensitivity across the management chain. Some managers are visibly upset about having to give hard messages to their employees. The process in general is working well, which I'm not sure is a good indicator. Do we want to get better at firing people? Either way, I'll say again that I think it's being handled about as well as it could be.

Some managers may be trying too hard. There are a few messages being shared that really aren't helpful, despite the good intent. Some keep reminding us that "layoffs are only impacting ~10% of the organization, which means that 90% of us are going to keep our jobs." That's absolutely true. But 100% of the people are worried about losing their jobs. That message seems obvious and redundant, and feels like spin to try and makes us feel better, which actually makes us feel worse. For the one or two managers who may be reading this, my advice is to stay away from the platitudes. The best way to help is to follow the IT advice of informing your people as soon as possible and with compassion.