Friday, April 25, 2008

Green Shift

Reg Braithwaite over at raganwald has a great post about Green Shift. What is Green Shift? Well, it's a term coined by Scott Ambler (back in 2006 writing for DDJ) for a wide-spread corporate anti-pattern. The pattern does like this:

Nobody likes to report bad news to the layer above them, so managers (it's usually managers, most programmers are brutally honest) take the reports they are given and spin them positively. Repeat this for a few layers and a massive compound interest of spin will accumulate until the report that reaches the highest level has no similarity to the reality being reported on.

The reason that it's called green shift is from the "traffic light reports" that modern project management likes to employ for their reports to senior executives. Green means everything is good, yellow means there are issues to be addressed and red means serious problems. If the programmers on a team report problems, that should turn the report red for that project. This would reflect badly on the project manager, so they will often report it as yellow with a written note that they are confident that the current batch of issues will be addressed successfully in the near future. See how this is close to the truth, just with a very positive "glass half full" kind of perspective? The problem is that this is now a subjective rather than objective report. The next layer will take this report and take the project managers expectations and read them as cast-iron guarantees that the problems will be solved before the project is delivered. This layer will then pass on their report with the project status as green, because they believe that everything will come in fine at the end and that there is nothing that senior management needs to worry about. Again, they feel that they haven't lied, but have just taken a positive view of the report they received.

The more layers there are between the programmers and the CIO, the worse the effect gets. Unfortunately, this is a very common occurrence within Corporate America. I have seen this everywhere that I've worked and it seems to be getting worse.

This may come as a surprise to many programmers who think that it's only IS managers who suffer from this form of insanity, but it is in fact so widespread that there are classic Internet jokes about it:
In the beginning was the Plan.
And then came the Assumptions.
And the Assumptions were without form.
And the Plan was without substance.
And darkness was upon the face of the Workers.
And they spoke among themselves, saying, "It is a crock of sh-t, and it stinkith"
And the Workers went unto their Supervisors and said, "It is a pail of dung, and we cannot abide the smell."
And the Supervisors went unto their Managers, saying "It is a container of excrement, and it is very strong, such that none may abide by it."
And the Managers went unto their Directors, saying, "It is a vessel of fertilizer and none may abide its strength."
And the Directors spoke among themselves, saying to one another, "It contains that which aids plant growth, and it is very strong."
And the Directors went to the Vice Presidents, saying unto them, "It promotes growth, and it is very powerful."
And the Vice Presidents went to the President, saying unto him, "This new plan will actively promote the growth and vigor of the company with powerful effects"
And the President looked upon the Plan and saw that it was good.
And the Plan became Policy.
And that, my friends, is how sh-t happens.

[A tip of the hat to the Jewish Humor and Joke Page]

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