S h o r t S t o r i e s

// Tales from software development

Think outside the box ? Oh, please!

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Why is it that so often it’s the least dynamic managers who jump on fashionable bandwagons long after they’ve departed ? Everytime I hear the phrase ‘think outside the box’ I have to stifle a laugh at the memory of the sales director of a company that I worked for a few years ago.

John liked to think that he was at the cutting edge of innovative sales and management techniques. But long after it became a cliche, he would interject, “Come on guys, think outside the box!” whenever there was a quiet moment in a strategy meeting. It wasn’t even remotely helpful and I can’t recall him ever making a single useful contribution.

Towards the end of my time with the company I was handling the project management of a new version of the company’s software product. This was expected to run for about 8 months with two developers and although the management had agreed the project plan they’d quickly decided that they needed to keep a close eye on the progress of the project. John emailed me to insist that I adopt his method of tracking progress which he would demonstrate when he was next in the office.

Two days later John came into the office and announced that he would sit down with me later in the morning once he’d caught up with his email. Mid-morning he emailed me a copy of the current project document and came over to my desk and said, “This is the format I want you to use.”

I opened the modified copy of the project document that he’d sent me. I noticed that he was using some coloured text but other than that it wasn’t noticably different from the document that I’d created and been maintaining. I looked at him for an explanation.

“It’s green for completed tasks, blue for ‘in progress’, and red for ‘behind schedule’,” he declared. 

I’m not saying that colour coding the progress of each task in a project isn’t useful but this was John’s sole contribution to a project that was to redevelop the company’s flagship product. You’d have thought that he might have something, anything, of greater significance than this to offer…

As one of my colleagues commented, “He’s not so much thinking outside the box as colouring it in.”

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Written by Sea Monkey

November 10, 2008 at 9:00 pm

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