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A BP Moment

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January 04, 2013 – Comments (2)

Board: Macro Economics

Author: qazulight

Today I was at a small relay station. Not really a Central Office, not really a Remote Terminal Hut. A fiber optic repeater station. It is unmanned. The power tech that was assigned to it retired. I think he retired in place and then just went home after a couple of years.

The best I can tell, the alarms have not worked in this station for a couple of years. The co-worker and I were talking about his attitude. It is foreign to us. However, after I mentioned that the upper management is giving my supervisor a hard time about my numbers.

My co-worker asked, "I wonder if I would have the same don't care attitude if I had already made my retirement, and the company kept hitting me for numbers instead of quality work?"

I said "I don't know, but I do know that the company is heading toward a BP moment."

We keep pushing for more efficiency, this is a necessary thing as the culture has incentive built in for inefficiency. I.E. One first line manager for no less than 8 people, one Second level manager for 8 to 12 first line managers and so on. If a manager loses too many people he loses his job. So the incentive for the lower level managers is to keep the craftsmen as busy as they can on things that turn the blocks green on the executives spreadsheets. The only downside to this is that craftsmen become discouraged and actual work does not get done.

Further, failures tend to be buried.

In this case, the alarms either did not work because of a fiber optic rearrange and the previous power tech found it expedient to pencil whip the alarm tests, or a false alarm came in and the power tech found it expedient to snip a wire rather than find and correct the problem.

In either case, it worked out for him. He retired, I get to find and repair the problem. The numbers worked out for his boss, as they looked good and nothing bad happened.

The problem is, bad things will happen. Bad things have happened. We have lost an entire central office on a sunny day. Most of the power alarms were not working and the one redundant alarm was ignored. (Why not, it must be a false alarm, no alarms came in.) No one was fired. It was a small insignificant office.

However, the numbers guys keep tightening up. Just like the bean counters at BP did. One day there will be a BP moment. For guy like me, it is a lot like trying to out run a lion. I know I cannot get away, but I can only try to run faster than everyone else so someone else gets eaten. I don't know if it will be my company or another, or if it is my company if it will be in my market area, all I can do is make sure it isn't in one of my central offices.

This seems to be the accepted operating procedure for all of corporate America, and the U.S. Government. As we worked we wondered out loud if 911, Bengazi, the mine explosion, BP and the flash crashes were not related to the same spread sheet fixation.

Cheers
Qazulight

2 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On January 05, 2013 at 12:32 PM, BlueGrits (< 20) wrote:

You are seeing what happens when people "manage by numbers" rather than "managing WITH numbers". 

People who manage with numbers seek to understand what is going on and figure out why certain trends and variations exist.  They see numbers as the consequence of mgmt decisions/practices/policies as well as the result of everyday variations which go with any job.  They see their jobs as ones in which they systematically work to improve both their knowledge of the system and the system itself.

 Those who manage by numbers have a simpler life.  They can point to a chart, yell/scream about results, and point fingers.  They are tributes to the philosophy that management is itself a standalone profession, one requiring little/no knowledge of what is actually *being* managed.

 And what happens to workers in a "manage by numbers" environment?  They turn off, tune out, and drop out.  They learn to play the game and, by god, if mgmt wants numbers then they'll get them.  

Back in the day, some programmers built a code generation and checking tool, but they ran into a problem and sough guidance from their mgmt team.  They could engineer the tool to make the coding generate lots of lines of code and be very inefficient.  That would accomplish mgmt's goal of showing high productivity (lines of code per programmer hour).  On the other hand, the tool could be structured to ver very efficient and have long lines of code.  This would be good because the service team priced their support based on the number of lines of code.

The problem the programming team put to mgmt was this: Do you want the tool to be inefficient and meet your productivity goals or to be efficient and meet your goals for reduced service costs?

They never got an answer.  Not only that, but one of the people directly involved told me that some in mgmt NEVER EVEN UNDERSTOOD THE QUESTION.

And that's just one example -- I could on with many others from a variety of industries.....

Truth be told, all too many "managers" are no more than administrators with little practical knowledge of what's actually being done.  That cycle can be broken, but the impetus for doing so has to be from the uppermost corner office.  Sadly, that seldom seems to happen.

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#2) On January 07, 2013 at 3:26 PM, lemoneater (78.14) wrote:

Excellent! I'm going to share this with my husband :)

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