Jezzie, Manny, Corey, Dana and the triplets

By Ivan Gevirtz

created: Wednesday, September 26, 2007
updated: Thursday, November 08, 2007

Hum-dum, she sat at her desk, waiting for something to do.  Her job was to hande client requests.  Most of her requests would come in as packages, but other people had to unwrap the boxes, read the contents, and convert it into a common fomat that she could handle. Every now and then she would have an easy day like this.   She couldn't complain, really, but sometimes she would get bored.  She would sit.  Sometimes she would get tired, and she would sleep.  She could never really shut down completely, rather she would periodically wake up and see if any new work came in.  On other days, she would enter a busy-loop, checking her email for requests, polling web sites for customer problems, and the like.  Those days were the most frustrating.  She would feel like the outside world didn't move fast enough to keep her occupied, and a deep ennui would set in.  Those were the days where Jezzie wished she could just leave, go off and do unrelated things, work on her own projects, help others.  And why not?  She could carry a pager, and be interrupted whenever a work-related event requested her attention.  Surely she could remotely send responses to many queries.  She could serve her job while multitasking!

Manny, was always busy.  He served in the Central Processors office.  Busy, work, busy, work!  He was just one cog in the wheel, humming along, doing his job.  There never really was anything new to do, but he had to constantly keep up, otherwise he would permanently fall behind.  When ever something complicated or unusual came in, or Manny just felt like something would take too much time, he would pass the project on to someone like Jezzie, who could focus on the task, and had more resources and time to figure out what the project needed.  The worst thing Manny could do would be to slow down, fall behind.  There were a couple other people who worked along side Manny, and they were also very reliable.  While a couple weeks downtime and the periodic holiday were offered to Manny, he always felt bad taking it.  If he shutdown and went away on vacation, his coworkers had to work longer and harder to pick up the slack.  Holidays were easier, because everyone got off and the office was closed.  Yeah, holidays were especially great because the management always had the maintenance crew come in.  Sometimes they just physically cleaned the space, changed the filters, shined the windows.  Other times, however, they would upgrade the whole office.  The best time, Manny recalled, was when they cleaned up everyone desks, collected all the books and software and organized them neatly in a new bookcase, and gave everyone new pens and notepads.  Yeah, that time, they even got new mouse pads!

And then there was Corey.  Corey was brilliant, or an idiot savant, or something.  Corey always remembered everything you said.  He had quite a head for numbers, and in fact for any information as long as you let him know in advance what kind of data he was about to deal with.  And Corey seemed involved in everything.  Indeed, there was an entire staff dedicated to helping Corey out.  As long as Corey was happy, everyone was happy.  Just don't let Corey get sick.  That day when Corey barfed up dinner (Corey always worked late.  People gossiped that Corey never left the office!) --  Oh!  -- That was a bad day.  It took the clean up crew a whole day to restore Corey, and there were still stains on the floor.  That day, Corey's assistant was put in Corey's office and was quickly instructed how to dial in to Corey's work load.  After that, Corey's assistant, the industrious Dana, moved across the country, and has handled Corey's overflow workload.  That arrangement certainly takes some of the stress off of Corey, and works out better for the whole company.  At least that's what they tell us.  These days, few people get to go anywhere near Corey's office anymore.

So that's how it was when I was hired by the company.  Things worked.  Everyone had their role, and everyones role was partially defined by their individual quirks.  Oh, boy!  How could that ever scale, how could the company ever get bigger, faster, stronger, more reliable?  I had the answer.  And, while I wasn't allowed to change how we interfaced with our customers, I could change the way we did it inside.  Standardize.  Homogenize.  Interchangeable parts.  And, I secretly knew that some of the old ways, and the cruft, wouldn't make it.  But that was OK, I had my own people, my own gears and cogs who worked hard and only needed a little oil every now and again.  Yes, I was hired to assess the company's functions, examine their inner processes, and reorganize them to make things more streamlined, more efficient, more prepared to handle the dangerous markets outside.  Reorganize!  Reshuffle!  Refactor!  Repurpose!  Regurgitate!

Oh, the humming processes of the people, the industrious interchange of information...  Oh, it all would change.  The employees, the people hired to serve the company, fully understood that.  Their fear was not of change.  It was of sudden, unrecoverable change, the kind of change that breaks everything, and make people blue in the face.  I understood that, and calmed the masses.  We would manage the change.  We would build in the changes piecemeal, test the changes for effectiveness, and fix the differences when they caused requirements to not be met.  And, if we ever made a fatal core change, we would roll back that change, in its entirety, and try another approach.  To ensure that customers never saw a core change, we would never change the way they interface with the company.  We would write tests to codify their ways of doing business, and make sure that from this point forward they always worked as expected.  In addition, we would only make changes to one unit at a time, and continuously test them.  Indeed, those tests would be a permanent part of each change itself.

How did it all work out?  In the end, things worked out.  Or at least, things worked.  Some of the same old crew remained in the company.  Jezzie's job became much more flexible.  As long as she got all her work done, she was given a lot of time to relax.  There were crunch times, and easy times.  Her role became more diverse, but it was all stuff she could do away from the office.

Manny, on the other hand, decided to retire.  For a while, he just drank more coffee, worked through his lunch, and stayed late.  But he was always feeling worn out.  To help, the company continuously hired college kids, and paid them commensurate with their inexperience.  Manny had lots of experience, and he could handle anything that came in to his department.  But he was expensive, and he was tired.  When the company offered him a nice retirement package, he jumped at the chance.  And, he felt good doing so -- the way his department worked now made it much easier to take a college kid and train them overnight on the job format.  There were now several specific, well delineated roles, and specific people for each role.

Corey and Dana fell in love.  How could they not?  They were two of a kind, and their constant interfacing made sure they were always on the same page, and always interacting.  When one of them learned something new, some interesting morsel, the other always quickly knew.  The two were on the fast track, and together they could serve the company, and each other, much better than apart.  You know where this is going, right?  Yeah, several short months later, they had triplets.  And guess what?  The triplets, having been taught by Corey and Dana forever, took over when Corey and Dana finally shut down and retired.