Sometimes it’s better to do than to plan

Sometimes it’s better to do than to plan

A summer worker on the construction of the Empire State Building in 1930, source. The entire construction, from the preparation of the construction site to the ceremonial launch of the elevators, took 410 days

Recently, one often hears about a new management model — an excess of administrative staff that is not related to the main production. Unfortunately, this is especially evident in the IT industry, where the number of middle managers greatly exceeds the standard indicators. For example, at Google, the share of managers has already reached 15% of the total number of personnel, that is, one manager for every five to six employees. This is well above the service industry average of 1 to 15.

An excess of managers in the company leads to negative consequences:

  • sending KPI with subsequent degradation of the product, which according to managerial logic should increase DAU;
  • degradation of corporate culture due to office intrigues and careerism;
  • decrease in productivity of developers due to endless meetings, calls, reporting and use of software to “increase efficiency” (task trackers, time trackers, calendars, etc.);
  • digital exhaustion and employee burnout.

This is the standard cost of managerial surplus. Sometimes even a single manager does more harm than good.

Parkinson’s law of triviality


“The time spent debating an item is inversely proportional to the amount involved.”

It is an apt observation that the members of the organization attach excessive importance to trivial matters. The more trivial the question, the longer the discussion and heated arguments.

The logical consequence of Parkinson’s law is that discussions, meetings, bells, flyers, etc., meetings in the absolute majority are a waste of time. The more these meetings and the longer they are, the more useless they are.

But for the manager, these meetings are a performative activity, the meaning of which lies in its own existence. Managers’ activities are limited to scheduling meetings, discussing issues, recording meeting results and planning new ones. Even if they are completely meaningless. The manager has a completely different logic, because he thinks not so much about the product as a value, but about his career, salary, and image. For him, average employees are just a “labor resource” for personal tasks.

It is much more profitable for a manager to solve problems than to prevent them from occurring.

And this means that it is impossible to interfere with the emergence of problems. The more problems, the better, because you can heroically overcome them. This is the manager’s mission.

It is interesting that the “new management model” with an excess of managers and an abundance of procedures/certifications/approvals penetrates literally into all spheres of the economy.

▍ Why did everything around go up in price?

Due to procedures/certifications/approvals, the global economy has changed a lot in recent decades. There is an opinion that for this reason all infrastructure projects have become significantly more expensive.

For example, the 102-story skyscraper “Empire State Building” was built in 410 days (from January 22, 1930 to May 1, 1931). The Apollo space program took less than seven years from the formulation of the task (September 12, 1962) to the landing on the moon (July 20, 1969).

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the surface of the moon

Today, such rates are unimaginable in any industry. These days it takes years or decades just to get a building permit, then another few years to prepare the paperwork, clear the infrastructure, etc. Budgets have grown to enormous proportions. The parable became the project of a high-speed train between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the construction of which began in 2015. During this time, the budget has grown from $33 billion to $128 billion, and the deadlines for the completion of construction are constantly shifting (and there is no end in sight). Currently, the first section is planned to be launched at the end of 2030, but this is an extremely optimistic estimate.

And such “long-term projects” have become the norm, because many approvals and permits are required at each stage of the process.

In a civilized country, you no longer have the right to build a house, lay electrical wiring, or drill a well yourself; you need to call a certified craftsman with a license for anything. What can I say here, even a simple redevelopment in one’s own apartment is prohibited without the preparation of a project and approval by the executive committee.

Naturally, under such conditions, literally all infrastructure projects began to take much more time and money. Over the past 50 years, everything around has become more expensive several times (even taking into account inflation): real estate, education, medicine, the same space programs.

Such are the costs of modern civilization, which is fixated on processes and procedures. Managers and bureaucrats have taken over the world. They do planning for the sake of planning, and seeing the execution of the task as the “easy part” once the “planning” is done. But it drags on endlessly and delays all projects.

▍ Programs for managing programs

The quintessence of managerial madness

programs to manage programs


Managers of the modern IT industry are a kind of “productivity hackers” who have laid their whole lives on the altar of living every second as productively as possible: reading 12 books at the same time and wearing the same clothes every day for the sake of optimization. But this is actually the complete opposite of a happy life, enjoyment and games.

Analysis of new mobile applications for 2014-2021 showed that productivity software is the fastest growing category. Here we see how the cult of productivity is taking over the world.

But in reality, most of these applications are aimed at improving the efficiency of use other applications. That is, it really is programs to control other programs. And they take even more time: on average, working with internal organizational productivity tools takes about an hour per day, contributing to the emergence of a new phenomenon of digital burnout.

This is a new level of complexity/abstraction that should help deal with the complexity of the previous level. Most interestingly, the audience for productivity apps is the exact opposite of the audience for reading books, listening to music, and playing games.

It is quite logical, because leisurely thoughtful reading of books, listening to music and computer games for a “productive” manager is a waste of time.

The cult of productivity is getting really crazy. Even Habra posts daily “productivity” tips and “useful” tools like top 20 time trackers. This is an endless acceleration of life and optimization of time.

But software companies are known to die when managers instead of technical professionals seize power. In this connection, a frank instruction of the CIA issued in 1944 is mentioned. It outlines various ways in which saboteurs can reduce the company’s productivity (for example, if a citizen cannot flee the country and is forced to work for the enemy). Here are some recommendations:

  • Insist that everything is done through “channels”. Do not allow the shortest paths to be chosen to speed up the implementation of decisions.
  • Make “reports”. Speak as often and as widely as possible. Illustrate your ideas with long stories from life and refer to personal experiences.
  • Raise issues about non-essential issues as often as possible.
  • Argue about clear wording in communication, protocols, resolutions.
  • Go back to the topics that were decided at the last meeting and try to reopen the question of the appropriateness of this decision.

The task is to gradually reduce the productivity of the company, but at the same time not to arouse suspicion, following formal rules.

It feels like many modern managers are acting strictly on the instructions of saboteurs. And they are doing great.

And all this against the background of endless office intrigues, maneuvers to improve your career, secret conspiracies behind your back, bribery to the management – these disgusting office games in which it is impossible not to participate, otherwise you yourself will become a victim of intrigues. Unfortunately, refusing to fight for power is the most unsuccessful strategy in the toxic atmosphere of the modern office:

“Often people give up the struggle for power because they see how bad people seek that power or use it for evil. But they fall victim to this decision, missing out on the benefit of the game. A comprehensive meta-analysis of the influence of political skills [на работе] showed that they are positively related to job satisfaction, work productivity, career success and personal reputation, and negatively related to physiological stress”– From the book “The Seven Rules of Power” by Professor Jeffrey Pfeiffer.

In other words, if a person avoids office intrigues (and just quietly and inconspicuously does his work), the consequences can be a feeling of unrecognition and unhappiness, as well as a decrease in productivity and deterioration of health. Such a gloomy situation in modern organizations is the result of instilling a culture of managers associated with careerism, productivity and “successful success”. She pushes whether to fight for a promotion or to go for dismissal.

▍ It is better to do than to plan

The main motto of managers is the widespread use of performance metrics, drawing up plans and reports on work performed. The paradox is that excessive tracking of productivity, on the contrary, reduces it. Reports take time, but less energy is left for real work.

In fact, maximum productivity requires the exact opposite strategy: minimize the distraction of meetings and calls, daily reports and metrics. It is necessary to create optimal conditions for maximally concentrated work. If you distract a developer for 30 seconds, he falls out of the flow state and loses several hours of productive work. If developers are forced to go to the office, it is necessary to allocate them separate offices where they will not be distracted or disturbed. This will pay off many times over due to increased productivity.

An engineering approach to solving problems is much more effective than a managerial one. These are real cases, not empty talk. The story mentions how an engineer saved the company $500,000 in five minutes by simply removing one instruction in the script that caused the servers to go into standby mode for 10 minutes after every two-second request to Snowflake in S3 (S3 servers with pay-as-you-go) .

Managers were shocked how one engineer managed to cut costs by half a million without their valuable participation? After all, for many years they lied to the management that everything was working as it should. After this optimization, everyone was suddenly overwhelmed by the question of how to use it for their own benefit (career promotion, receiving a bonus, salary increase, etc.). It was the biggest optimization in years. The engineer himself was appointed to dozens of meetings and forced to prepare a PowerPoint presentation about the work done.

In large IT corporations, developers are engaged in nonsense for months or years, because the entire corporation is bogged down in bureaucratic procedures. Managers are assigned to even the smallest development teams of a few people. The task of such managers is to increase the number of their department, its influence and weight, proving their own productivity and importance for the corporation. All this does not bring any value to society and does not give satisfaction from work to a normal person.

It seems that today’s youth are beginning to understand the absurdity of bureaucracy and performative, ostentatious work. Compiling useless reports to advance up the career ladder is the stupidest way to spend your life. Surveys show that among young professionals, the popularity of the manager’s career has fallen to an absolute minimum. And this gives at least some hope for a bright future for humanity.

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