Wednesday, October 06, 2010

On planning

The town I live in is currently being subjected to the most extensive disruptions imaginable. The centre of town is being revitalised or some such thing, so we have all manner of roadworks and diversions in place. At the very same time, BT or British Gas or someone is doing an upgrade of something or other, so there are holes all along the road past our part of town, each with a flimsy barrier around it.

We suffered with these holes all down one side of the road recently. Instead of digging one hole, or one section of holes at a time, all the holes had been dug at once. And you never saw anyone working in or near any of them.

Then we saw a bunch of people beginning to fill the holes in, and take away the barriers. "Wahey!" quoth we, "Have you finished, then?"

The response almost took our breath away.

It turns out that these chaps had been subcontracted to dig the holes in order for the work to be carried out. So they dug them all at once, because they are the hole-diggers, and that's what they do. BT/BG/whoever then never actually got as far as doing the work for whatever reason. But the time had come, according to the contractual agreement, for the hole-diggers to come and fill in the holes and take away their barriers.

They then proceeded to dig the holes on the other side of the road, where they now stand, surrounded by their flimsy little barriers, devoid of any workers. Perhaps, in a week or so, the hole-diggers will come and fill them in again and take away their barriers.

In a few weeks' time BT/BG/whoever, will finally be ready to do the work, and they will have to either dig the holes themselves, or hire someone else to do so.

The waste is utterly ridiculous.

And sadly, not unique.

I once knew a man who worked on what is now known as the O2 building, but used to be called the Millennium Dome. His job had to do with flooring. At some point in the project plan, the wiring and plumbing and such like was to have been done, after which, the concrete floors could be poured. When the time came in the project plan to pour the concrete for the floors, the wiring and/or plumbing had not yet been done, because this aspect of the project was running behind schedule. In full knowledge of this, the contractor poured the floor anyway, because that was what they had been contracted to do and this was when they were contracted to do it. When the teams were ready for the wiring/plumbing, all the flooring had to be broken up.

I don't even know how to frame my thoughts on this. I find myself goldfishing madly, going, "Surely....But... You mean..." and getting no further.

I can't understand (a) how the overall project manager can allow this happen, (b) how the contractors involved can be so shoulder-shruggingly unconcerned about the bigger picture (c) how the impact on time and cost (not to mention quality... ooh, my ex-boss would be proud - he always wanted to turn me into a project manager) can be tolerated by the commissioning client.

Stephen Downes often uses jumbo jets as an illustration of distributed knowledge in action: no one person knows how to design, build and fly a jumbo jet. Yet they are designed, built and flown... each aspect of the operation falling to an expert or team of experts. And this is a Good Thing. But when the knowledge has become so distributed that people are able to shrug their shoulders and deny ownership of the bigger picture, something surely needs to be done and butts need to be kicked somewhere along the line.

Only, who gets to do the butt kicking, if nobody is in overall control anymore?



V Yonkers said...

And I thought we had it bad here! We had construction done on the two major roads going through the center of town: a highway and a major route. You have to take one or the other to get anywhere and all side roads feed into these two main roads. The good news was that they decided to do the work at night. The bad news was that they did the same direction at the same time, so there was no way to by pass the construction if you were going north, but the south bound lanes were free and clear. The other problem was because it was night it was difficult to see when there were hazzards in the road.

The ownership of "knowledge" is coming up often in my dissertation and I think it is a bigger impact for distributed groups than people have warranted it as being. Hopefully soon I will have something on my blog about it as soon as I work through what my thoughts are!

Karyn Romeis said...

@Virginia The situation you describe is exactly the sort of thing I see more and more often, and evidences a lack of what is currently called 'joined-up thinking'. If it weren't so frustrating for the people affected, it would be funny, right?

I look forward to reading your thoughts on the subject.

Views from Malmesbury said...

The small town I work in had problems too. A pedestrian crossing with road narrowing and creation of a pedstrian zone round the market hall was carried out (not needed in my opinion, just to use up the budget so it wouldn't be lost next year). (The market hall stands on the crossroads in the centre of town). Then they started on the re-decorating of the town hall but the crossing and pedestrianisation work was so shoddy it had to be taken up and re-done. Therefore we had all the work going on at once because one 'had to be done' and the other was scheduled (set in stone?). Four way traffic lights caused havoc bringing the town to a standstill and badly affected traders because no-one wanted to come near the town. So who do we hold responsible, either for the shoddy work or the chaos...? Who knows?!