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Computerizing Bad Business Practices

I'm sure many people have been in this situation before.  You are forced to write a program to handle a complicated business process that doesn't work well to begin with.  This often causes the program to be several times more complicated than it needs to be.  Simplifying the process and making it more efficient would probably lead to much simpler code and help the business as well.  No one knows (or cares) why the process is done the way it is, they just know that it is done that way.  Usually they did it that way manually or it was done that way in another computer system that wasn't designed well.  Another possibility is that everyone else in their industry does it that way even though there are much better ways to do it.

Have others succeeded in getting companies to actually change a business process in this situation?

Anonymous
Friday, August 08, 2003

The key is to have a project sponsor high up enough that realizes this is a hugh opportunity to rethink and realign their business processes.  Without that support it usually is hopeless.

DJ
Friday, August 08, 2003

My experience has also been that the sponsor needs to have the power to over-ride objections from lower ranks. There are undoubtedly people who are deeply invested in the current process, and they will fight it kicking and screaming, even if it makes their job easier. People don't like change, especially people who have a functional mindset (i.e. clerical workers).  If they have the power to stop the change, they will.

Clay Dowling
Friday, August 08, 2003

Remember that highly-paid thread a few posts down? I suspect that those who are competent to identify inefficiencies and get buy-in from change-amenable execs are much more likely to be highly paid than those who simply implement tools for monkeys.

Israel Orange
Friday, August 08, 2003

Speaking about monkeys ...


Start with a cage containing five monkeys. In the cage, hang a banana on a
string and put a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to
the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches
the stairs, spray all of the monkeys with cold water. After a while, another
monkey makes an attempt with the same result: all the monkeys are sprayed
with cold water.

Pretty soon, when any monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys
will try to prevent it. Now, turn off the cold water. Remove one monkey
from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the
banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his horror, all of the other monkeys
attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to
climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a
new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous
newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm.

Again, replace a third original monkey with a new one. The new one makes it
to the stairs and is attacked as well.

Two of the four monkeys that beat him have no idea why they were not
permitted to climb the stairs, or why they are participating in the beating
of the newest monkey.

After replacing the fourth and fifth original monkeys, all the monkeys
which have been sprayed with cold water have been replaced.
Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs. Why not? Because that's the way it's always been around here.

And that's how company policy begins.

Mr Curiousity
Friday, August 08, 2003

Mr. C, is this a summary of an actual study?  If so, could you provide a link or publication information so that everybody else can check it out?

K
Friday, August 08, 2003

I just assumed that was how he spent his time...torturing poor monkeys...

FullNameRequired
Friday, August 08, 2003

And to make it even worse, there are no more clean monkeys left.


Saturday, August 09, 2003

Read "The Periodic Table" by Primo Levi. There's a story in there about how he met another chemist in the late 1950's who asked his opinion about a formula in their factory which he didn't understand. Levi was gobsmacked because he had worked at the company just after the war's end and had specified that chemical because they had a contaminated lot that they needed to purify. He'd then left the company, but the additional chemical was still used even though it wasn't needed.

Stephen Jones
Saturday, August 09, 2003

Still, don't be overconfident in your ability to propose better business practices. Outside consultants often provide lousy advice since they don't understand the situation sufficiently well.

Julian
Saturday, August 09, 2003

Mr. K and FullNameRequired!

Sorry to disappoint you, but I never had anything to do with the monkeys ...

Instead, I have to deal with human beings which are in their behavour did not get too far from our relatives in the animal kingdom ...

I wish things were different, but they aren't ...

Mr Curiousity
Saturday, August 09, 2003

My team developed a bid EAI billing system with a lot of business logic, that drives the whole electronic processes, for a Telco (10M subscribers) in the US. It works 18 months in production without fail and that is the result of very good architecture and design.

The project is done via a sub-contractor company, which is on the contrary is not happy. Why? Because "no defects - no money".

So, I think, problems with business logic, design or implementation may accur when development groups not able or don't want (for future money) to make it ideal...

Evgeny /Javadesk/
Saturday, August 09, 2003

I've heard the monkey thing before. I heard a similar thing about cannons... There are a set of instructions for loading a cannon & firing it, and one of them makes no sense but everyone does it... reach back.

Eventually the new guy finds out that they're reaching back to grab their horse who is gonna wanna run away, but there are no horses any more, but it's been codified into the way they do things.

> People don't like change, especially people who have a functional mindset

A lot of those people are afraid for their jobs and that's why they don't want to change. They're afraid they won't be needed under the new process, won't do the new process well, or won't be perceived as doing the new process well, etc.

www.marktaw.com
Saturday, August 09, 2003

I would have thought a reach back would be a procedure to help avoid having your hand smashed by the breech when the gun fires.

Also, I sympathise with Evgeny. I did a new version of a big web app for a Fortune 500 company that also worked flawlessly. Also, the company's staff were able to take it over and operate it in 2 hours. Big success. But no more revenue for me.

Meanwhile an old app done by another company kept breaking all the time, needed a few days work every week for making changes, and gave that other company a great revenue stream.

Lesson: Have bonuses for meeting agreed maintenance and performance criteria.


Saturday, August 09, 2003

When approaching management about simplifying the process, you should be very careful not to appear as though your system design is the most important factor in the equation.

Sr. Management has been jerked around by ERP vendors such as SAP and PeopleSoft, which all but require businesses to re-engineer themselves to fit the software. So management is accustomed to hearing IT depts whine: "The business is a mess! The processes aren't standardized! This project will require complex custom code ... etc."  This makes management wonder if they're getting real value/ROI from their IT investments.

Software that supports/models complex real-world processes is not simple to create. If you're not experienced and comfortable using flexible, highly productive tools, you should probably outsource the development.

JSnodgrass
Sunday, August 10, 2003

(On monkeys and cats, a zen koan via diveintomark)
http://diveintomark.org/archives/2001/11/13/what_i_do_for_a_living

mb
Sunday, August 10, 2003

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