You Build Kingdoms Because Your Mother Didn’t Love You

Mother-Child_face_to_faceDestruction of silos is all the rage in DevOps and has been since the beginning of the movement. Patrick Debois wrote a very intelligent piece on why silos exist and how they came about as a management strategy. While the post explains why hierarchy style of management came about in the US (General Motors and Sloan), it doesn’t cover some of the personal motivations as to why silos or management kingdoms come about.

Parkinson’s Law

Over the last several years Bike Shedding – or more appropriately Parkinson’s Law of Triviality – has become very popular in technology.  But in all the trivial debate, it seems more technologists have missed C. Northcote Parkinson’s other law, aptly named Parkinson’s Law.

Parkinson’s Law simply states “…that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Any life long procrastinator will immediately know this is true, as does anyone that has attempted to do any level of project management. Further, Parkinson explains that this expansion of work, also creates an expansion of people doing the work. While Parkinson was focused on governmental organizations, Parkinson’s Law can also apply to other organizations.

Parkinson attributes this expansion of work to two factors:

Factor I.—An official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals; and

Factor II.—Officials make work for each other.

The Law of Multiplication of Subordinates

Now as work expands, for whatever reason, Parkinson explains that the worker (worker A) must find ways to handle the workload. Parkinson explains that they must find a solution and have three options:

  1. Resign
  2. Split the work with colleague B
  3. Hire subordinates.

And as Parkinson points out, any rational actor is going to choose #3, and in doing so will at a minimum hire 2 subordinates, workers C and D. Hiring one subordinate would be effectively equal to #2, splitting the work with C instead of B, and thus increasing the pool of competition (A, B, and C would effectively be at the same level at this point). Thus the rational choice is to hire 2 or more subordinates, and in doing so A can leverage C and D against one another, holding a possible promotion out as a carrot in order to keep C and D in check.

Of course, work expands, eventually C and D become too busy, and thus they must make the same choice that A had to when they were hired. Rational actors as they are, they choose option #3, each hire 2 subordinates (at least), and please welcome E, F, G, and H to the company. Worker A now has a beautiful fucking kingdom; self-loathing because of an unloving mother notwithstanding.

The Law of Multiplication of Work

As Parkinson points out, seven people are now doing what one once did. Instead of simply expanding to fill time, work now begins to multiply. Why? Well the workers begin to create busy work for each other. The example Parkinson gives follows as such:

“An incoming document may well come before each of them in turn. Official E decides that it falls within the province of F, who places a draft reply before C, who amends it drastically before consulting D, who asks G to deal with it. But G goes on leave at this point, handing the file over to H, who drafts a minute, which is signed by D and returned to C, who revises his draft accordingly and lays the new version before A.”

Parkinson continues his example documenting the busy work that this kingdom produces, much of it useless, and leaves the example with A leaving the office for the day:

“Among the last to leave, A reflects, with bowed shoulders and a wry smile, that late hours, like grey hairs, are among the penalties of success.”

Success indeed my King, Success indeed.

Sound Familiar?

If at this point, you haven’t seen the slightest reflection of an org you know, work at, or have worked for then please let us all know the magical organizational utopia that employs (or has employed) you. Snark and rage aside, this really highlights the problems of many organizations; big kingdoms built to produce very little of value other than process and busy work. And that is why the DevOps Silo Rage gets so much airtime. Process and busy work are there to further the growth of the kingdom, not feed the soul of the individuals at the bottom.

This also highlights why DevOps focuses so heavily on borrowing from things like Lean Manufacturing. Lean emphasizes getting rid of unnecessary process and waste, in order to focus on value creation activities. It also empowers the individuals – E, F, G, and H in the example above – to shape how the value creation process should actually work and what processes are wasteful.

Now reflect on A. What if (s)he came in one day and E, F, G, and H wanted to revamp all the “meaningful” process that keeps them in check. What do most kings (or queens) do when a revolt happens? Kingdom in jeopardy, they squash the rebellion and execute the leaders of the rebellion. Sometimes the monarchy throws carrots to the rebels to appease them just enough to keep the rebellion down.

And that is my rub with the Marketing Driven DevOps drivel being produced today. It’s a fucking carrot to appease the rebels in order to keep the status quo, kingdoms intact, and incumbents in bed with the monarchy. It’s an illusion to pretend you’re doing something new, and at the end of the day thinking, “All this hard work is just my price for my success.”

Parkinson’s Law – The Economist – November 19th, 1955 – http://www.economist.com/node/14116121

One thought on “You Build Kingdoms Because Your Mother Didn’t Love You

  1. Pingback: Parkinson’s Law, DevOps, and Kingdoms | Chef Blog

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