to wit: today, as with any tuesday these days, i am submersed in a 90 minute mandatory project conference call to cover a massive effort to revamp the very core of what we do and how we communicate that to the world. i'm sure when this all got started there were sugarplum fairy dreams of fleets of promptly-timed trains in the minds of those who entrusted the stewardship of the whole nine yard to den deutschen, but the last 30 minutes have proved to me that the trains so eagerly expected at the stations, as timely as they will most definitely be, (i do not believe it is cosmically possible for a german to be late with our about anything), will become an unfortunate surprise to those who called for their original dispatch.
for the last 30 minutes we have covered a series of powerpoint slides (you know how they say never to feed gremlins after midnight or get them wet? well, to that they should add the admonition to never give a german access to powerpoint) that carefully lay out the processes and procedures by which the project team will assign green, yellow and red status markers to other processes and procedures.
i would not kid about this.
in business school, and, yeah, you may have told you about this one before, but not only am i old and inclined to repeat myself, it prima facie bears incessant repeating, i learned of an historic quality effort aimed to improve the output of one particular lawn implement manufacturer many many decades ago. the reason for this effort was the perceived need to change the way things were done at a fundamental level (echoes reverberating throughout the aforementioned project today) in order to create a bright new and perfectly engineered future. i cannot say whether there were germans involved or no, but i can say that the organizers of this historic massive effort created a beautiful scheme of quality checks that would be a perfect analogy to today's green/yellow/red schema, and before you point out the obvious difference, that green/yellow/red is more nuanced than the defect/not defect distinctions within the manufacturers initiative, let me inform you that a major portion of today's 30 minute exposition on green/yellow/red was on how the project managers would interpret the disposition of the yellow conditions so as to be able to designate them as either green or red depending on their characteristics. (like i said, i would not kid about this).
so the lawn mower people tracked their productions lines with a precise count of the number of machines rolling off the lines with "defects", and incented their entire workforce on the basis of reducing the number of such defects so as to increase the number of perfect products. sounds good, right?
have you ever worked with germans?
turns out a good number of those "defective" lawnmowers that the project was initiated to eradicate had defects in various things like their paint jobs. and let me tell you, in short order, rolling off those lines were the best painted lawnmowers in the business. unfortunately, also equivalent in the counting were other defects like insecure blade bolts that would otherwise keep the rotating blades from helicoptering their way out from under the mowers across the exposed shins of their soon-to-be crippled operators. and because lawnmower paint is so much easier to spray around like so much rouge on proverbial pigs, the perverse incentive thus created was to cheerfully indulge a lethal projectile here and there so long as the appearance of the death machine was flawless beforehand.
and you know all those plant managers pocketed their bonuses regardless.
so i will predict for you right here and right now a beautifully lea green sea of green-boxed spreadsheets by this time next month when all of this is scheduled to have been delivered, and i'm willing to put a big fat paycheck on it. and while we're fiddling over our rainbow of statuses the rome of our actual output is burning in an inferno of unrealized potential.
because to do the right thing would risk a yellow marker to be converted to red according to the algorithm. (the algorithm, by the way, i can recite for you in excruciating detail having had it drummed into my head for the past half hour).
i'd explain for you the next half hour of the call, but it's even more painful to admit we are wasting our time with it. 110 people (the conference call widget counts them for me--i'm german but i'm not that german) consumed for 1.5 hours each, for a total of about one person month of work for no discernible productive purpose. and this happens each and every week. we're talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars of salaries for the project calls alone, not to mention the millions being wasted on the project overall.
situation normal, as my fifteen year old daughter will tell you, and all fucked up.
merry christmas, competitors.