18 July, 2013

Sticking around through the end: A surprising management trend and the danger of Faith-based Engineering

During my career and across a number of engineering/management consulting engagements, I have become aware of a phenomenon that many of the more cynical among us have either seen firsthand or suspected - managers and leaders being promoted, reassigned, switching jobs, or otherwise moving on from roles or positions before their poor decision "chickens" come home to roost.

This takes the form of a manager setting unrealistic expectations, encouraging the team to embrace wildly optimistic performance goals, making Faustian budget bargains, setting crazy schedules, and other forms of "faith-based engineering". Before the consequences of these misjudgments become obvious or acute, the manager has left the project, program, or company and the problems fall into the laps of (at least relative) innocents.

Recently this pattern has been disrupted. Because of the economy, the opportunities for escape from an effort you've screwed up have been reduced. There are less new projects, programs, and job vacancies. Managers find they are more likely to have to stick around long enough for their errors and misdeeds to catch up with them.

Bottom line is: pay attention to the decisions you're making; that future you're mortgaging just might turn out to be your own.

15 July, 2013

Dud and Oi! - a short review of the Discovery Channel's series Blood and Oil

Update 28 July 2013: Appears I was not alone in my low opinion of the "merits" of this show. B&O seems to no longer be on Discovery's broadcast lineup. Perhaps lawyers for Particle Drilling pursued some sort of injunctive relief in order to divorce their product from this train wreck?

Blood and Oil chronicles the struggle of the Cutter Oil Company and the Cutter family in Ohio against the predations of the evil monolith that is "Big Oil". I was hopeful that the show might depict for the public what energy exploration and production is about in at least a semi-realistic manner. My foolish hopes are dashed. Most of their struggles are against self-inflicted problems.

The scion of the Cutter family (after his dad's recent death), CJ, is an idiot; Homer Simpson personified, but with absolutely none of the charming goofiness or humor. It's small wonder that everyone around him is depicted as being frightened, just as any reasonable person would be in the presence of a real world Homer and all the potential for harm that his surliness, ridiculously hot temper, and incompetence would imply. Suffice it to say that impulse control doesn't seem to be big in his skill set.

Younger brother Josh has a degree (in geology -- of the "rocks for jocks" variety, I assume) that is never put to use in selecting drilling sites. Nor is seismology or any other technological tool that might be used to mitigate risks of a $500K investment. The show stresses (every 8.3 seconds, it seems) that "Cutter pays for drilling costs out of their own pockets", in contradistinction to the free-loading finks of big oil.

The first well they drill is in their sister's backyard (quite literally), started without her knowledge or consent. At least we can't accuse CJ of being a NIMBY type (or at least not a NIMSBY - Not in my Sister's Backyard). Drilling operations seem to be conducted in a blissful universe where permits, OSHA, and basic common sense safety practices are as yet undiscovered.

CJ frequently refers to "turning up the crazy" as a means of getting things done. Sadly, the crazy knob appears to be coaxial with the STUPID knob, and both get twisted up to eleven. A group of looters descends on the Cutters' ancestral homestead -- CJ's carefully considered strategy, tear the 150 year old structure down with a back hoe and then set the wreckage afire with a flare gun. That will teach them pesky looters. And oh yeah, smash the thieves' presumed vehicle while you're at it. Having a bad day? Turn that frown upside down by smashing something big into pieces that are small.

CJ, Josh, and the unfortunates who are condemned to work for them decide to destroy a grain silo (which makes sense because all they do in any grain storage area is grapple each other into submission, WWE style). CJ's "turn up the crazy" concept is to place an arbitrary blob of some sort of explosive in an arbitrary location in the silo and detonate it with a rifle shot. All this seems to accomplish is blowing off the top of the silo, thus inadvertently educating viewers on the rocket principle. Then they enter the silo (I mean what could possibly go wrong) and go for round two with a double-sized charge. After reentering the now more precariously leaning silo to inspect their handiwork, CJ sets about knocking it down with his back hoe, all the while noting how dangerous this all is.

My recommendation is to only watch this show with its wooden (or maybe leaden) dialog delivered so ineptly in a purely ironic sense in much the same way that one might enjoy watching Sharknado. You'll probably be able to get through two and one-half episodes this way.

10 July, 2013

Quote of the Day: "Through a combination of dancing, singing and Kung Fu moves, he was able to defuse the situation."

The "situation" was:

A) Old Dirty Bastard resolving a contract dispute over Wu Tang Clan's debut record.
B) Jimmy Carter convincing a group of hostile Israelis and Palestinians to meet in a public forum.
C) A globe-spanning cyclist encountering a pistol-packing gang of Siberian motorcycle enthusiasts.
D) Jackie Chan explaining box office performance of his two recent films to studio executives.
E) President Obama's uncle facing deportation after a DUI arrest involving a police cruiser.
F) Edward Snowden explaining his future plans for an IT career to Venezuelan diplomats.

Read about it here: