Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Mismanagement: The Weakest Link

We all know that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. All too often leaders like to believe they are the most important link in their chain; it strokes their ego and justifies their compensation. Ironically that belief tends to make them the weakest link. A good leader works toward ensuring the strength of chain as a whole. They do not behave as if they are one tier above those they lead. They behave as simply another member of the team and set an example with their actions rather than with their words alone.

Behaving as if developers are equivalent to plumbers or assembly line workers is a really bad idea. In general, behaving as if the various different roles in the software development chain ought to be ranked from most important to least important, e.g., developers are more important than release engineers, is bound to weaken the chain. When was the last time goodness flowed from an Eclipse project without an associated release engineer, or someone acting like one, making it so? I've always believed in focusing on sound release engineering as the basic foundation upon which all other good things are built. When done well, it's a thankless job that's all too easily overlooked; when done poorly, it's a constant source of wasted time and energy for the entire food chain. Long live Eclipse's release engineers and thanks to the Eclipse foundation for their renewed focus on improving build infrastructure. It's a beautiful thing.

These days it's become clear that mismanagement is a bane of our collective existence. For example, I always thought CDO was an exceedingly cool project which graduated from EMFT to EMF during the last release, but yesterday I found out that CDO mismanagement is the cause of the world's financial crisis. Who would have thought that Eike would have so much influence? Just a little joke at Eike's expense!

All jokes aside though, how could such a complete and total financial disaster be allowed to unfold? Did none of our leaders foresee these possibilities? Of course some people saw this coming, but they were all too easily ignored by those whose vision was clouded by a veil of greed or wishful thinking. Systematic failure is the ultimate result of such mass myopia. I watch my father's struggle getting the mining industry to compute credible risk assessments in a context where hundreds of millions of investor dollars are often at risk for even a single project, yet the silence there too is deafening, which leaves my dad a little frosted.

I'm no economist, but watching all this unfold, I grow ever more doubtful about the actual prevalence of prevailing wisdom. Who decided, for example, that double digit growth is a goal that must be achieved at all costs? Is it actually a realistic goal? It's entirely clear that the risks taken by the few can ultimately become a burden to society has a whole. So as we take action to keep the financial house of cards (or stack of champagne glasses) from coming down, surely it's also time to identify the weak links in the chain. Perhaps many of the world's overpaid leaders' compensation should be scrutinized more closely. It doesn't seem totally unreasonable that one person might be compensated 100 times as much as another, but is 1000 times perhaps a little much? Do the CEOs of the world's large corporations really generate that much value? And most importantly, when they make huge mistakes, are their personal risks proportional? Watching investments evaporate certainly makes the rest of us blue.

Now that I've put the importance of good release engineering in proper perspective and have resolved the world's financial crisis with a witch hunt, I can prepare for my trip to Germany next week. I'll be visiting the itemis site in L√ľnen and then traveling to Elmshorn for MDSD. I hope I see some of you there. I'll have to check my camera chip's remaining capacity! Germany is so photogenic.


Boris Bokowski said...

The problem is only coming from those secondary CDOs if I understood the guy on Youtube correctly. So Eike, who as far as I know is working on the primary CDO, should not be blamed.

By the way Ed, you seem to have a problem with blog comment spam...

Ed Merks said...

Boris, I'm practicing my "blame others" skills, a very important mismanagement technique.

I could moderate my comments to cut down on the spam, but the little garbage can icon after the fact works quite well too.

Kim Moir said...

Great post - two of my favourite topics - economics and releng.

The financial crisis was exacerbated by greed and moral hazard. The sellers bore little personal risk that insufficient assets backed the complex financial instruments they were peddling. Thus, there was little incentive for them to curtail their profits.

In the same line of thought, release engineers are often taken for granted until the builds that make the entire team productive ignite into a cloud of unresolved dependancies and nobody knows how to fix it...

Release Engineers: When the build's on the floor, we'll pick up the pieces and get the release out the door!

Ed Merks said...

"Command line Kim," I'm glad you took my comments personally. They were intended to be taken that way. You guys, like Nick, do a fantastic job for all us build-hungry consumers. It might be challenging at times, but you should take the greatest pride when you're noticed the least and know that others live in awe of your accomplishments and in fear of having to perform these miracles ourselves.