Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Work Bubble Concept

After what happened in 2008, we all know what an Asset bubble is. I am sure we knew it before that also but the glamor quotient came only after 2008.
Well, today I will expose you to what is a "Work Bubble". As you would have guessed, its not a complex phenomena which needs experimental evidence to be proved. Its just an abstraction of what we see around ourselves sometimes, typically in large organizations.

The genesis interestingly lies in the following simple traits of human behavior
1. Everyone wants to save their ass - No one wants to own up anything. Everyone always wants an excuse in case things go wrong.
2. Everyone wants to find work where there's none - Well does it need any explanation? People have to justify their salaries.

Its like disguised employment. Bringing in an analogy, work bubble means creating an illusion of work when there's none and charging the customer for that.
Now a visual representation of what I want to explain:

This is more like the ant story we have all heard/read here and there. But what does this entail?
This entails polynomially less "actual" work than portrayed out to be. Polynomially more costs , polynomially less efficient solutions. But do we care?

What this leads to is a false belief that things are on track because you are measuring the wrong things to track progress. Instead of measuring the actual work done, we measure the number of documents made till now, lines of code written till now, and taking a little more liberty sometimes we also tend to mention that meetings which we have held till now to showcase progress. Nothing could be further from the ideal scenario. In this respect, Eric Ries (a champion of this cause) is coming up with some amazing tips and a book.

At the end of the day, its about communicating clearly and getting the things done. No doubt communication is most critical and cannot be undermined. For sure, without consensus things cannot progress. But how much effort you need, to make communications simple and scalable. No doubt there will be some necessary non value adding activities.But in its guise of communication so much non value added activities are authorized by design that its close to appalling. 

Its like a Ponzi scheme. When everything is hunky dory this doesn't matter. However when going gets tough, pressure is exerted on the bubble. And for those of you who have studied surface tension, would appreciate the distress of a bubble under such pressure. Unfortunately this bubble is more thick skin and takes more time to bow out but bow out it shall.

Why it matters in IT?
Work bubble will not be a nuisance in industries where we don't have headcount linked revenue model.However,  IT services is in one of those phases where currently the prices are moving from transient to  stabilized levels based on the nature of work. Hence commoditized work would have downward pricing pressure and upward cost trends. On top of that, for the foreseeable future the incumbent model is here to stay. In such places, cumulative work bubble impact will become huge and almost wrecking for any organization.

Here's hoping that this bubble will also burst sometime and unlike the Financial industry which is back to its perilous money making ways, the tech service industry will actually come out stronger with better frameworks. Though they are being adopted to solve other problems , approaches like MVP, Agile, SCRUM are the way forward in cleansing the mess. Hoping these will not get corrupted.