It’s coffee time again!  Drink up; Sit down; Strap-in, or strap on, whatever your bent is, and enjoy this 5-point mindless rant about things commonly accepted as fact or truth, but do not hold up under scientific scrutiny.  Enjoy!

1 – Cross-Training Improves Agility and Efficiency

For the 5% of organizations that have enough staff to flex roles without impacting services, maybe.  And that assumes that the 5% are in a unique position of having nothing urgent to tend to in either the originating or temporary roles to distract from full-on focused training.  It also assumes the person(s) in cross-training are actually interested in learning the auxiliary role duties, and that they aren’t just doing it because they’re ordered to do so.

Also, if the training end of the scenario has such a demand for “surge” staffing that they need to cross-train, just spending time to provide the cross-training distracts from real work being done.

For the other 95% operating on less-than-ideal staffing levels, no.  Most cross-training involves a finite time period, whereby the cross-trainee eventually moves back to their original assigned role.  That means after a few days/weeks/months of distance from the temporary training environment, they need refresher training, and more time away from their original role.  If the trainee really wants to learn the new skill/role, they should apply for a transfer.

It’s like attempting a part-time marriage, or a semi-pregnancy.  Eithe go all in (transfer) or don’t bother.

Even if an organization is in a unique (and enviable) position of being able to apply full-on cross-role staffing, where nobody is king of their domain, they share equal duties, the results are often “jack of all trades, master of none.”  Even a so-called “multi-master” domain model has actual role masters.  Somone has to cook the meals while someone else gets the ingredients.  It’s how Nature works.

During a conversation once, following their presentation, with a very well-respected business consultant from a Fortune-100 consulting firm, I asked him if cross-training typically yields quantifiable gains for most organizations.  He answered, “No.  It’s an illusion.”

2 – Automation Frees Up Staff to Do Greater Things

In theory this should hold true.  Yet, in all the environments I’ve poked my head into, the automation projects seem to turn into career paths rather than one-time fire extinguishers.  Even when the motives are nobel and the engineer(s) *want* to follow this idiom, oftentimes the automation effort spawns follow-on work that wouldn’t have existed without the groundwork laid before it.  In those situations, the work that *was* waiting in the wings never actually gets the TLC originally intended.

In more recent times, the last two years in particular, the net results of automation improvements have leaned towards reduced staffing or, at the very least, elimination of vacant positions.  Good for business.  Bad for unemployed or misaligned workers.  But this rubs up against a much broader topic of automation versus human labor, and I’ll leave that for guys like Robert Gordon.

3 – Command-Line is Better

This is such a stupid belief, yet so pervasive.  It’s like saying “a hammer is the best tool”.  For turning bolts?  No.  For welding metal beams together? No.  No tool is perfect for every job/task.  Yet there seems to be a persistent view that the ever-growing range of tools and methods must mean that the existing ones are generally inferior.  It negates the possibility that maybe they’re fine for what they were intended for, but a new tool was needed for a new task.

Now, all that philosophical blabber over, let’s consider the quantifiable side.  If we apply the Quality-Productivity Ratio formula to contrast CLI vs. GUI we can start to see where the EOS or Economies of Scale come into play.  Yes, I’ve dranked my coffee, and I aced stats and calculus in college, so I know my pre-Med.  Mmmkay?

For example, in the QPR model, the “defective units” component can be positioned to drive from units of *human* task repetition; thereby resulting in a geometric increase in “potential” defects as a correlation of increase in human manipulation (smacking the keyboard and talking about last night’s DWTS winning couple).

Inversely, or conversely, or tersely, whatever, one can interpolate the inverse (there, I got it now) that tighter clustering of input targets reduces the inter-step times for accomplishing a task.  And that a mouse-click equates to a a finger press of one key on a keyboard, let’s take Function X which requires 20 user input options (buttons, parameters, etc.) and let’s assume that the inputs fall into the following types:

  • 10 are radio buttons
  • 5 are text boxes with keyboard entry (assume 10 chars each)
  • 2 are drop-down list picks
  • 2 are sliders
  • 1 is a date picker

Configuring by GUI:

  • 10 radio clicks = 10
  • 5 x (CH as Chars) = text box entries = 50
  • 2 x (1-click list open + 1-click select) = list selections = 4
  • 2 slider drags = 2
  • 1 x (1-click date picker open + date select year + month + day) = 4
  • Total user input actions = 70

Configure by CLI (assume PowerShell**):

  • 1 x (enter first 5 chars of command + press Tab to auto-complete) = 6
  • 1 x

** I have to specify a model for CLI since the GUI relies on standard input component types where CLI incurs syntactical variations. (sounds like a great band name!)

4 – Collocation of Project Team Members Isn’t Important

Anyone who’s been through a successful Agile/Scrum experience will absolutely disagree with that premise.  And they would be correct.  And again, this harkens back to the previous discussion about clustering of tasks, but this time replace “tasks” with “resources”.  The same logic fits everywhere it seems.  From gathering all your tools together before starting a repair job, to gathering your clothes to do laundry.

Gathering your team members together puts them in direct (or much closer) contact, reducing the time required to ask questions, propose ideas, provide or receive answers, distribute announcements, and so on.

As much as this might seem like “common sense”, whatever that is, more businesses ignore this than not; which tells you that their priorities are elsewhere.

5 – Telecommute Working is Bad

Every single quantifiable metric that can be brought to bear on this discussion ends up placing telecommute working models on top of the list.  However, it is still the exception for western businesses.

School teachers, consultants and marketers, often insist it’s the ‘de facto’ way of doing business nowadays, but the facts don’t back that up.

Whether you measure by low-hanging fruit such as:

  • Reduced facilities footprint costs
    • Leased space
    • Heating and Cooling
    • Lighting and Electricity
    • Furniture
    • Restrooms
    • Snack/break rooms
    • Parking
    • Fire and Security systems
    • Accessibility compliance
  • Reduced company-provided devices (BYOD)
    • Phones
    • Printers
    • Conference Rooms: tables, chairs, Polycoms, projectors, whiteboards
  • Auxiliary staffing
    • Custodial
    • Security

…or just the good old “morale improvement” factor (pick a number), the result is always always always a win-win.  So why then is not happening more?

MBO.  That’s right.  Management by Objective, which places a higher load on management to assign, track and measure worker output.  Managers don’t like to work, that’s why they become managers.  Delegation is everything.  But if a manager tells their workers to work from home, they can’t delegate the in-between anymore.  They have to do it themselves.

So, they more often prefer to walk around with a coffee cup to “see” that their staff are busy at work, rather than pull out the microscope and verify what they’re doing.  It just “feels” better.  But business doesn’t survive by feeling better, it survives by results.  Comfort factors into that, but all the coach pep talks mean nothing without the wins.


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