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impending doom?

I'm working on a federal grant-funded research project for a large organization.  The project is relatively high-profile (for its field), and my bosses are hoping to spin off what I develop (enterprise software) into a consulting business (with me included) sometime in the future.

I just got back from a talk at another institution (a "competing" institution, but in this field, people are supposedly "cooperating.")  A group there has already built exactly what we are building, but it is complete, and has been firetested with real data for about 6 months. It is now being used live.  It is already at least 50x better than what I will be able to come up with in the next 6-9 months.

I took this job mainly because I needed work, but also because I was hoping to get some letters of recommendation from my bosses. However I'm sort of depressed about the notion that I'm just badly re-implementing something that already exists and works. Should I mention to my boss, "Hey boss, Larry's over at X already built this thing a year ago?" Or should I just keep quiet until my bosses find out about this on their own?

doomed
Monday, January 13, 2003

I'd make sure you've lined up another job before you mention it!

I had a friend who decided to become an accountant in the mid-seventies. He started as a trainee for one of the big multi-nationals. His job was to collate the billing data for the UK subsidiary and then send the summary over to headquarters in the States.

The company had set up a computer link directly to their headquarters in the US from their UK subsidiary and for the previousl two years all the raw data had gone directly to the States. My friend realized that his job was 100% redundant. He mentioned this to his manager. His managers advice was to keep quiet until he had passed all his accounting exams and then quietly apply for a transfer.

Stephen Jones
Monday, January 13, 2003

I work in an institution similiar to yours (academic I assume?) and have found that people who work in these types of places tend to have a "not invented here" attitude.  If your funding has been granted specifically to develop this product I wouldn't worry at all. It's your funders job to decide what's worth while. I also find it hard to believe that this "competing" firms product is absolutely perfect. My advice is to treat your "competitor" as your competitor. Use their product and try to improve it. 

hiding out in academia
Monday, January 13, 2003

>I also find it hard to believe that this "competing" firms product is absolutely perfect

It isn't clear if the competing product is perfect, but it is currently running a vital service for a huge institution, and does pretty much everything in my spec.

> Use their product and try to improve it. 
I will be working for about 6 months before I get half of the features the other system already has working. In theory maybe I can get ahold of what they have done, but it is "enterprise" software, so I doubt I'm going to be able to download the source code and start hacking on it.

And yeah, it is academic, but a specific "vertical" within academia that isn't necessarily very academic.  I guess after thinking a moment, I'm not so worried about getting sacked, but it is sort of a pathetic feeling knowing that I'm working on something that already exists.

doomed
Monday, January 13, 2003

If this is academia in my experience this is not an exception. I have seen instances where "research" was being funded (more then 500.000$) to construct systems who's 10x better (not in some, but in all respects) version could be obtained commercially for about 2.000$.
Of course the commercial version did just describe itself for what it was (well, sort of, in marketing speak) whereas the description of the academic stuff was fully abundant ancient mythological reference and vague physics analogies compliant.

Just me (Sir to you)
Monday, January 13, 2003

If I were you I'd keep quiet since

1) The money and potential recomendations is good for me.

2) Even though they have a system that works already, who knows ... I might develop a couple of features that works better than theirs or it may be something unique.

I'm sure you can find a few flaws in their current system that you could improve upon.  Then work on delivering a better product by emphasizing your improved features.

HeyMacarana
Monday, January 13, 2003

Doomed:

A couple of observations:

1.  View this as a challenge instead of a defeat.  Just because there is competing software in your space, doesn't necessarily mean that you can't be successful.  Everyone single product out there has competitors.

2.  Wordperfect held market share before MS Word came along.  Was MS Word vastly superior?  Perhaps, but then again maybe not.  But Microsoft did an excellent job marketing their product.  My point is, that product features or quality don't necessarily imply market success, there are a multitude of other factors.

3. Find out what your competitor doesn't do well and do it better.

The product team I am working with started out in much the regard as you are now.  We are gaining market share slowly, but the momentum is definetly starting.  We talked to our customers and found out exactly what they wanted.  That's what we built.

Keep your chin up!

Chad R. Millen
Monday, January 13, 2003

It could also be a kingdom-building project ...

I've recently been working on one for a government agency. It's one of several similar projects that are government-funded. After seeing the design, I argued that several design decisions they'd already made were poor choices, and should be changed. The response?

"Another project already made those design choices. We have to choose differently to keep our funding."

It may just be the case that some manager needs the development effort more than the company needs the software (local rather than global optimization).

No name this time
Monday, January 13, 2003

Doomed, you should mention what you know.  Never keep secrets from your employer.  If you live by politics, you will die by politics.  You have found a lemon.  Now make lemonade.

Bella
Monday, January 13, 2003

If you mention anything then the politics will begin, if you say nothing, then no politics, ignorance is bliss.

ALberto
Monday, January 13, 2003

Hiding knowledge could be classified as "politics".  I classify "everything out in the open" as non-politics,

Bella
Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Another, non-linear solution to this issue could be to try to go offshore. There for the same 6 months you could have a small team of developers dedicated to that program for a price of 1/5th of what your competitor is paying for a less productive team.

You would remain a key person of development and at the same time as far as I see you could play more as a product manager to coordinate the process.

Just an idea.

If you like it - feel free to contact me. I have some experience in that area.

Serghei Koval (www.offshorecreations.com)
Tuesday, January 14, 2003

thanks for the advice. i think enough people here know about the competing system so that not mentioning it isn't necessarily "hiding" it. (my boss's boss was at the same presentation I was) I should be ok for at least three more months, and I have a side contract starting in a week, so if I'm deemed totally useless , I shouldn't be in dire straits.

doomed
Tuesday, January 14, 2003

"Another, non-linear solution to this issue could be to try to go offshore. There for the same 6 months you could have a small team of developers dedicated to that program for a price of 1/5th of what your competitor is paying for a less productive team."

Contact me instead of Sergei. He lives somewhere cold. I can arrange to put you up in a hotel among the coconut palms, inflate the bill by three for your expense account and we'll split the difference.

Also, I won't even go through the motions of trying to find developers for your product so at the end of six months your institution will be paying a lot less, and will have exaclty the same as if you followed Sergei's plan. That is exaclty nothing!

It imay ntrigue you how Sergei considers your competitiors to have a "less productive team", considering you stated that they have so far produced a product 50 times more functional than yours. But remember he is taking productivity to mean "producing unearned commission for dodgy middlemen such as ourselves" so a team that delivers more than it promised on budget and ahead of schedule is really the pits and deserves disbanding immediately.

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, January 14, 2003

"Hiding knowledge could be classified as "politics".  I classify "everything out in the open" as non-politics,"

I couldn't agree more Bella!

What company did you say you worked for before you became unemployed?

And could you post your email -- I want to send you some snapshots of my cat.

cat lover
Tuesday, January 14, 2003

I'll see Stephen's coconut palms and expense account and raise the bet by a week with a pair of high class hookers, certified disease free.

Ed the Millwright
Tuesday, January 14, 2003

"aise the bet by a week with a pair of high class hookers, certified disease free. "

All my hookers are cross-platform. And their performance in bed is ISO 9000 certified.

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Well, that was funny.

Although I should mention that I use different attractions to do my business - those borring accomplished in time projects with right and tested features. Maybe hookers work good to attract customers :))  in this case consider me just as an old style businessman. I'm ok with it. :)

As for costs - many teams with brilliant in-house developers will look like "a less productive team" because I can easily double the staff on the project (if needed). Especially with our 15$/hr. This argument is hard to beat one :)

Nowadays in IT I see almost the same trend as one that US had 15 years ago in industries. Everything was transferred to Japan, Honkong. Then later to China. in IT it was (and is) India. Now Eastern Europe, Ukraine. There is smth to think about.

And take care! (maybe some of your hookers used your methods to pass AIDS tests and get needed results) :))

Serghei Koval (www.offshorecreations.com)
Wednesday, January 15, 2003

I don't know if outsourcing is the answer in this particular case. I'm one guy making $70K a year (which is about $33 an hour). Thus at $15 an hour, I could replace myself with two of your guys, which doesn't make too much sense for me, because then I don't get paid anything. I also don't know how much sense it makes for my employer to replace me with two guys from Russia who they have never met before, and will never see in real life. I guess maybe if this project was 3 or 4 magnitudes larger, it might make sense to outsource it, but in that case, we'd probably use an outsourcing firm that we have heard of before.

doomed
Wednesday, January 15, 2003

No "doomed", you just replace yourself with one guy from Russia, pay him and pocket the other half of the money, and work on your skiing/tan/whatever. Of course, your first step is to arrange to work from home so that the boss doesn't find out.


Wednesday, January 15, 2003

you're right. Plus I gave you an example of our company. 15/h is not the cheapest price (because we have onsite American project management).

But that was just an advice. I'm not fighting for the contracts (although always ready to discuss possibilities).

I agree that for this concrete situation offshore is an option but probably not the best one. It makes sense when you need to do the bigger system. In this case you get for the same 15$ not just a developer but also a manager, you use that company's infrustructure. Your 70K is just a salary. But you cost your company much more. There already will be 1 to 3 or 1 to 4 ratio. And when you have 2 developers in States and for the same money you have a team of 8 people - it makes sense to think about it.

And I'm not only talking about $$$ - quality is different too.
Sometimes for critical, high risk projects we do 2 solutions using different technologies for the same task. It reduces the risk of the project. Without streching the budget.

I hope you've read the 'Death March" by Yourdon. If not - please do. There are pages where he writes about the same situations.

Serghei Koval (www.offshorecreations.com)
Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Serghei, you win prizes foir persistence but you would do better to look at the many other threads about outsourcing on this forum; if you diid you'd find all your questions answered.

Firstly outsourcing is never/ever a solution for a project that is behind schedule.

Secondly 2 programmers at $15 an hour are not better than one programmer at $40 an hour. If you want to get software produced quickly you wil do better to pay somebody three times the rate to do twice the work. If you can find a guy at $90 an hour to do the work of two programmers at $40 you will get companies on a tight schedule interested, because the complexity, and delay of a program, has a lot to do with the number of programmers, which has to do with stretched communication lines, which is why having half your team in Kazakastan doesn't cut the mustard.

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Stephen, you're right. Most of Death March projects need be stoped instead of long reanimation and then nothing.

We had a fun story when my partner was selected by the board of directors of one big company where he worked at that time as a project manager for the Death March project.  "Kennen! We trust you! Please save this department. What do you want to do 1st on this project?" and he replied "1st thing I will do on this project - I will close it!" Of course you understand that they didn't let him to do that. :)) And as it happens in big organizations like that - instead of firing him - they promoted him. "you know we can't show everybody that we fail 3rd time in a row etc etc"

So I totally agree with you on that point.

As for the second one, math is good but at the same time I should mention that this is right and good. But now real world corrects calculations like that. Customers started to count money. :) still poor requirements documents although. :))

And the golden rule for offshore is overcommunication. That's why we preferred to have an American project manager on site. This power mix works fine.

As for other threads - actually I didn't have questions, I just suggested some things.

Serghei Koval (www.offshorecreations.com)
Wednesday, January 15, 2003

The most disastrous manager I ever met was head of training for a very large Saudi heavy industry. They decided to open a new plant and arranged a training program for a thousand traiinees.

Now was this guy (American) stupid! He was the liiving proof that the vegetative nervous system was all that was needed for life. Mainly as a result of his adivice, and totally hallucinatory ideas, various tens of millions of dollars were wasted on the training program. Two-thirds of the way through they took him off it, but when his contract expired they renewed it with a 50% pay rise, four paid trips a year home, and 4 months vacation. The only thing they didn't do was give him any work - at least they'd learned that lesson. The reason for this was that the whole HR department knew that if any questions were asked somebody would have to be fired; if they had already fired this guy, then one of his bosses would lose his job. So they kept him on for two years in case the shit hit the fan and they could fire him to deflect the flak.

You're right about overcommunication being necessary. The problem is that computer programmers are not normally the most communicative of people!

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, January 15, 2003

:)) funny story.

As for programmers and their style - that's right, many of them need a good manager to get them out of their shell. We manage that so far. Although of course we see that training of managers becomes actual when the company is growing.

That's why we decided to cut fat and keep just 50 to 70 people in the company. It lets us to avoid some headaches and if the effectiveness is good then it's enough to visit islands on a constant basis :)) (although I have some different ideas on how to spend $$)

ok. Seems that finally we are on the same page :)

Serghei Koval (www.offshorecreations.com)
Thursday, January 16, 2003

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