I’ve noticed a bit of talk lately about poor management such as this piece from Dare and this one from Mini-Microsoft.

While they focus on poor management at Microsoft, Microsoft does not have a monopoly on poor management. Indeed, it is rampant in the industry.

In general, I see one two main afflictions that affects corporate thinking in America. It is from these two items that all other problems seem to sprout from.

  • Placing short-sighted goals above all strategic and long-term planning.
  • Making decisions based on hopes rather than analysis and objective data.

A typical scenario might look like this. A company is starting a software project and ask their tech team (or consultants), “Hey, how long will it take to build this?” A reasonable question, but surprisingly difficult to answer because as we know, business types often don’t really know what they want.

After spending some time gathering requirements, the whole time being pressured by the business team, the tech team delivers a rushed estimate. Unfortunately for the tech team, the business types have already promised delivery of the product in half the time of the estimate.

So what happens now? Perhaps the company offers some token incentive and a pep talk about pulling together and taking one for the team by entering crunch mode from the start. Maybe they’ll even hire a few more developers attempting to prove that nine women can indeed have a baby in one month.

Perhaps the tech team understands the principle of the project triangle.

There are three goals of every project: Good, Fast, Cheap. You can pick two.

But try telling that to management. You ask them if they will prioritize features, and they come back with a list where every feature is priority #1.

At this point, the company is managing by hopes and fairy tales. They hoped the time they promised was reasonable. They hope the tech team can complete the project done in time. The tech team wants to put in place a longer design and planning phase, but management want them to get coding because they hope there won’t be any coding problems. The management team does’t keep a list of risks because they hope nothing bad will happen.

Invariably, by putting these shortsighted goals above the long term success of the project, they manage to make the project progress even slower than had they allocated the correct amount of time. Certainly it is possible they will get a deliverable on time. But a deliverable that is very much a house of cards.

To see the epidemic nature of this scenario, you only need to read the paper. The recent classic example is the Virtual Case File project. After more than three years and $170 million spent, the entire project was scrapped. That is $170 million in taxpayer money down the drain because of complete ineptitude, poor management by both the client (the FBI) and their vendor.

We can probably create a hughe catalog of business failures due to short sightedness and management through hopes.

UPDATE: Jon Galloway turned me on to Johanna Rothman’s blog. She has a great example of how managers can be “penny-wise and pound-foolish”. Just another example of being short-sighted.