Organizational Implosion

So a lot of my posts complain about the state of our shop, and it appears I’m not the only one who feels that way. The top guy is moving on, and our shop is being taken over — at least for the interim — by a rival department.

OK you can stop reading now. The rest of this post is just me ruminating and compulsively over-analyzing the situation as a reaction to stress.

What happened over the past few years is that first all the really smart people, including the (fantastic) SVP of our shop, got the hell out. One by one the really talented people just bolted. Eventually there were a few really, really smart holdouts left, and they were good at politics and determined to stay. So the top guy did a re-org and layed off these talented hold-outs.

Now the management team was wide open and vulnerable. Some of the key groups in our organization had really incompetent jerks moved into management positions — with emphasis on “jerks”. Reflecting the top guy’s bullying personality, these guys’ primary trait was their ability to bully, intimidate, and fight turf wars.

So, as expected, one by one those teams died. Our business partners slowly withdrew to safety, and it became harder and harder for us to find internal customers to do new work for.

Then what happened was that the entire management hierarchy just collapsed. The top guy — CTO — was acting like a VP. Not even a SVP, but a VP. He was getting involved in daily operation and development process issues. The VP under him was acting like a Director, and the Directors under him were acting like Managers. The Managers themselves were acting as dev leads, in some cases writing code and competing directly (and hostilely) with the members of their team.

The few remaining managers who were good suddenly stuck out like a sore thumb. The VP who I liked so much was suddenly in direct competition with his boss, who was doing the VP’s job. So that VP left.

And so on down the chain.

The top guy also decided that we needed to conform to industry standards, so he instituted a Product Management group and an Architecture team. The Product Management guys — unbelievably — started doing the exact opposite of product management. They refused to go on the road to show off our offerings to internal clients, and they refused to solicit new work. The idea was that they were the only ones capable of deciding what work we should do. But they had no idea.

I’ve always derided Product Managers because I’ve always thought of them as over-ambitious douchebags who make their living by dumping too much work and insane timelines on the poor devs. But, you know, at the end of the day I am *grateful* to them for giving me a hearty challenge and lot of work to keep me busy.

Our Product Management office was the exact opposite — it was the first time I’d seen Product Managers actually block and restrict the work that engineers were allowed to do. One manager actively used them as a stonewalling technique; whenever something came up he didn’t want to do, he’d just refer it to the Product Managers. And it would just sit there, frozen in time and space.

Then the Architecture team got roaring. And their primary job was to promote themselves and broadcast how terrible the engineering staff was. Anything that anyone had worked on in the previous month was total crap. For example, I had worked on a service that had displaced ***ORACLE*** from one large department, and another one who’s success had been reported all the way to the CEO of our huge corporation. But when I mentioned those accomplishments out loud, the architects would just laugh at me condescendingly, or else shut me up with contemptuous sarcasm.

So when word leaked out that the top guy was going, it was a huge relief. All the poison he brought to our shop has slowly started to drain. In the last month or so, I’ve actually enjoyed working with Product Management (imagine that!), and I’ve been able to talk about engineering issues as if I were an engineer.

The Architecture team is still on a rampage, though. They are still in a turf war, subsuming the entire shop as their domain. But that, too, will slowly run out of steam, and the key losers on that team will eventually be silenced or run out the door.

I don’t know if our department can survive. With a rival group managing us “for the interim” the question is, what form do they want our shop to take? These guys are based on the other side of the country, so will they think it even makes sense to have a separate office on the opposite coast? Or will they see us as a branch of their own operations they can keep like a pet?

I don’t know. But as the poison and stupidity slowly eke away, it is nice to be able to do some engineering again. I’m just not sure I’ll survive the transitional politics to see what form the organization takes next — if any at all.

EDIT: LOL a quick search brought up this article that pretty accurately describes some of what happened to us here. The articles don’t talk about the aspects of ego and self-serving bureaucracy that pulled our attention inward instead of toward our customers. But that is an old story.

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