Ever wonder what happens in software development companies?  I lived it for several years in the banking industry.  The result was a bitter taste for the way Fortune 500 companies are run.

Most developers and analysts are good folks trying to do the right thing, but they are trapped inside these command and control systems that lead to incredible dysfunction.  The bureaucratic and facist management I experienced was almost unbearable.  The result for those in the organization was forced compliance or dismissal.

One particularly frightening experience occurred when working with the call center.  Customers called every day with complaints about the software and this vendor had a backlog of thousands.  The fix was to set up a committee to prioritize these in long meetings.

When a team was put together to improve the process, we discovered that we were taking longer to write-up the agendas, schedules and rankings than to just fix the problem as they came in.  The classic was when one developer during  a particularly heated conversation that lasted over an hour said he could have fixed the problem in 10 minutes. However, process had to be followed and the rankings had to be voted on, prioritized and then the work could begin.

The result was waste.  We had studied failure demand as a team and knew that if we fixed the ones that banking customers most called on while acting on any new ones we could clear out hundreds of  failure demand phone calls in a few months.  But the CIO in her infinite wisdom was “sharing services” to get testing done in other areas pulling analysts designated to “help” the customer repair orders.  Stupid . . . maybe, ignorant  . . .absolutely; the rob Peter to pay Paul principle was in play.

Meanwhile failure demand continued to cause difficulty for the call center and customers demanded action.  The resulting action was to have the customers come together in groups to prioritize during a User Group meeting.  Not surprisingly, the customers couldn’t agree as each had their own agendas.  The failure demand was the best source of what to work next, not customers or prioritization teams.

I have more examples of command and control in this industry (more will be in my book).  But another dysfunction that stood out to me was the CIO demanded process be followed except by President of the division who was allowed to waive all this silliness when financial targets were at risk.  In other words, compliance was good for everyone but the president.

Imagine a project crawling toward the finish weeks behind until the customer won’t pay or a financial target is at risk then all the ridiculous bureaucratic waste is tossed aside to do the value work.  But the president is the only one that can call for sanity.  The rest of the developers and analysts had to live with checklists and project managers beating them over the head on a daily basis.

Milestones were being achieved to “show progress” but little was getting done, except lots of documentation that was of little value.  It was a shocking combination of arrogance and ignorance in a command and control setting.

Software developers and analysts share your stories!  Click on comments below.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at [email protected].  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.