Modern Middle Manager
Primarily my musings on the practical application of technology and management principles at a financial services company.
Sclerotic Organizations

Thursday, June 10, 2004  

Why do companies find themselves moving slowly, unable to innovate, as time goes on? I believe it begins with the laudable goals of standardization and the implementation of change controls. Standardization starts out with the thought that configuring the desktops and servers with a certain allotment of software will streamline operations and drive down costs, which it does, until it hits diminishing returns for the sake of the bottom line (Look! We have one desktop support person per 1000 users!) Standardization then works its way into application development, where the goal of finding the best solution becomes instead "find the best solution with the following platform and language constraints." It's a worthy goal that begins to transmogrify as it is applied, reductio ad absurdum, to every interface, every script, every problem. Then the strangulation of innovation begins.

The second hand in this death-grip is change controls. Change controls exist to reduce risk. The spectrum of change control is broad, from the idea that procedural change controls will be sufficient ("don't bring down a production system or you'll be fired") to the creation of review boards that must sign off on production changes (a la JP Morgan Chase, which evidently has three such review boards for just their production network). In addition, we recently received advice from a Pretty Well-known Consultancy firm that suggested we should record every change made to production, whether systems or appdev, and be able to produce a report that linked every change to every approved request. I want you, the reader, to understand -- we're an IT department of six people working for a $24 million a year company. This Pretty Well-known Consultancy firm has mistaken us for the Department of Motor Vehicles.

I think that the management of risk has become less of a cost-benefit question than a cover-your-ass proposition. This post-Sarbanes-Oxley environment is turning otherwise thinking, intelligent people from beings capable of rendering their own opinions into the lowest common denominator best-practice zombies so that no one can't point fingers and say, "You're wrong!" or "You gave me bad advice!" Grow up and grow some cajones.

posted by Henry Jenkins | 6/10/2004 02:18:00 PM

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