Sunday, October 07, 2007

So Long and Thanks for All the Features

Most of what I know about the actual firing of the development manager has been pieced together after the fact, mostly by infiltrating sales department happy hours (company sponsored, of course). After numerous sessions of stuffing my face with pizza shooters, shrimp poppers, and even the dreaded extreme fajitas I found that the perception is that the development manager was a huge barrier to progress.

The DM had an annoying habit of insisting that people rank desired functionality (and no, not everything can be tied for first) and then trying to work top priority items into the next two week iteration. This was described directly to me as "not agile enough."

Back when Trent (the sales guy) ran development we used to have sales guys call programmers directly from the site of potential customers. The sales guy would then describe the one feature our product lacked that was preventing the software from virtually flying off the shelves. The programmer would then take up to a week to implement it, cut a build, possibly increment a version number (not required), and we'd install it for a customer. Inevitably we'd turn up problems either during QA or at the customer site (pretty much the same thing). So, we'd patch it up a little (by changing multiple things at once) and cut some more builds. When that wound up breaking more things the customer would then threaten to pull all of our software out and kill the deal (for which they still haven't paid any money). We'd fly out more sales guys and try to babysit the install. Eventually the "customer" would calm down and agree to not rip our stuff out. They typically would never buy any more of our stuff, probably never paid for the stuff they got, and could be used as a neutral referral at best. After 6 months or so this would internally be held up as a success story.

Failure by the DM to stick to this proven method of delivering the product caused a lot of friction. So did starting meetings on time without "rounding up" all the interested parties that can't manage their own calendars. So did trying to stick to meeting agendas and not allowing everyone's time to be wasted by marketing stream of consciousness incidents. So did telling people their ideas wouldn't work and that there are better alternatives. So did trying to insulate developers from repeated interruptions by other company members (this got him the nickname "the Iron Curtain"). The ultimate final straw though appears to have been a personality conflict with the new VP of engineering.

The previous VP of engineering fled the scene of the crime and hand picked his own replacement who happened to be an ex co-worker / buddy that needed a favor in the form of a new job. The only person I found that interviewed the new guy recommended against hiring him. The new guy had zero technical background, didn't understand the industry, didn't understand the product, had screwed over some of the current developers in previous jobs, and had a somewhat weak personality. If Fredo Corleone had succeeded in taking over the family in The Godfather: Part II, I think it would have looked a lot like our engineering department. In fact, we'll call the new guy Fredo in honor of that theory.

Fredo had a problem with having a non "team player" reporting to him. Team players don't just drink the Kool-Aid they help mix it. This company has no place for people that won't delude themselves and those around them. The theory is that Fredo called up Hyman Roth (the previous VP) and was instructed to cut the cancer out. The DM's ominous sounding prediction that he was about to be fired came true a couple of days after it was made. The all new Dark Ages of the company were about to begin.


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