PermaLink Some skunkworks efforts just... stink.03/20/2008 12:56 PM
Let me say that I am a big fan of people who see a need for something just taking the initiative and doing it.   What I am not a big fan of is having to explain to people why not all of us have that option all the time and are thus sick of hearing about it.

Let me give you some background on this. In my day job, I build and maintain a pretty damn large system that contains all of my organization's operating information. Policies, procedures, laws that govern us, court rulings, commentaries on all of the above, and lots of situation-specific exceptions to or additions to all these things. It's been running for nearly a decade and had grown from 20,000 hits a day to over a million, and from maybe a thousand pages' worth of stuff to around half a million.

In an organization like this, when a system gets to be a Big Fuckin' Important Deal like this, suddenly everybody and their brother wants to be a "stakeholder," which around here usually means they wanna sit in endless meetings shooting their mouths off about things they don't understand and asking for features that violate the laws of physics and good taste. As a result, it has a certain inertia about it... we can write a particular feature in a few days or weeks, but it'll take "them" a few months to discuss it to death.

Problem is, these same people are like puppies, they're distracted by every little shiny object. Every other week, they seem to send a link around to some little startup site that does flashy shit that won't even make it past our firewall half the time, and say things like, "why aren't we doing something like this???"

Uh, two years ago we said we could do that, and you all decided that the users were too stupid to handle it, that's why.

The excuses are numerous. Almost all of them basically come down to, "we fear what we don't understand, and we assume that everyone else shares our lack of skill and understanding, too."

So, now, this week, I get this email about some new thing somebody out in one of our regional offices cooked up a year or so ago. It's not even a web application, it's something somebody did in Visual Studio or something.

What does it do?

It links to websites. But it itself is not a web application. It's an EXE that reads a bunch of XML files that contain... links to websites. Including scores of them to my own system. What do people like about this? That this guy broke the links down into categories according to what job someone might be doing, where they were located, and what tasks they were trying to perform. That's all. Flip through the menus, and your browser opens and goes to that one link.

Yes, this is like your cell phone company sending you a telegram to tell you your bill is overdue.

Anyway, I immediately got the "why aren't we doing this?" emails. Without using the word "fuckhead" once, I explained that:

  • That guy out in Seattle doesn't actually have to maintain any content (I do)
  • I thought the organization was trying to get away from little custom EXE programs that had to be dropped onto every workstation
  • That guy in Seattle didn't have any magic auto-categorizing genie that put all the links in nice neat little piles, he had to do it manually
  • So would we
  • That guy could get all this done because he didn't have to sit in meetings with all you dildos talking about all this, he just did it

Could we do something even better in Domino? Sure, and we'd have the advantage that we already have all the content and nothing will show up as a link in the views if the documents aren't actually there (he relies on a link-checking bot, cheerfully chewing up my bandwidth for nothing), and that we have skilled professional developers who could actually write some cool shit if we weren't in meetings all day talking about all the cool shit we might write someday when we're done holding people's hands and drying their tears of worry.

I don't want to hamstring those random guys out in the field, but don't make me try to keep up with them if you tie my team's hands with administrative horseshit and endless "reviews." In fact, the reason my system has worked so well over the years is that it was originally built without most of that crap. We just thought it up and did it, and rather than being taken as evidence of how powerful an environment Domino on the web can be and how skilled we are at managing it, it was instead taken to mean that anything that important couldn't be left in the hands of mere... developers.

No, I don't wanna hamstring those guys. I wanna be able to work like them again. And we would kick their asses.

Interesting fact I learned while writing this post: the Notes 8 client dictionary doesn't know what "XML" is.
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