Never Again

Time Is Money

Relocating and long commutes can be a waste of money and morale.

Before beginning a second career in my forties as a sportswriter and publisher, I worked for nearly 15 years as an IT consultant for one of the world's largest consulting firms. During that time, I worked with a lot of incredibly bright and hard-working people -- driven men and women who had a deep knowledge of both business and technology. Alas, I also bore witness to mind-boggling acts of managerial stupidity, which sometimes managed to wipe out the best efforts of the most talented developers.

One experience in particular stands out. It all started with an expert system I helped develop for one of our clients, which used artificial intelligence to generate documents required for the transport of dangerous chemicals.

We had worked with the client to update the expert system in the mid-1990s. Adding lots of functionality and moving the technical platform to Microsoft architectures.

Soon, both the client and the consulting firm began fielding calls from other chemical companies keenly interested in acquiring this technology for themselves.

There was tremendous enthusiasm for the effort. Within several months, our system was used as a basis to sell a larger suite of not-yet-built applications to several clients in the chemical industry. There was just one unanswered question. Where to locate the development team?

The answer seemed obvious. The team that had developed the core application and possessed the functional and technical knowledge was based in the firm's Cleveland office. The client for whom the application had been built was located in Cleveland. The key "knowledge asset" on the project -- whose wife was several months pregnant -- was located in Cleveland.

So, naturally, the associate partner leading the effort decided to locate the project about 10 minutes away from his home. In Boston.

The project was doomed from that moment. Productivity plummeted as team members lost significant time commuting to the East Coast. Key personnel were operating at about 60 percent of their optimal throughput. After about six months, the project was moved again, this time to Philadelphia, where the firm had just built a new development center with a surplus of office space.

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Whatever savings the firm might have accrued in discounted square footage was lost to logistical tangles, expensive travel and battered morale. I watched as our tightly knit team got beaten down. This group used to work 60-hour weeks with enthusiasm and good humor. Now, they toiled at 40-hour weeks hemmed in by rigid airline schedules. The developers became increasingly cynical and frustrated. After a year or more of flailing, the project was finally shut down.

The multiple moves and forced commutes robbed the development team of its most precious resource -- time. Knowledge workers who should have been working on code were instead waiting at check-in counters or worrying about flight delays.

The lesson in this case is clear. You need to make sure that your key knowledge workers can be productive, maintaining flexible schedules that let them work extra time if needed. And sometimes, as a manager, that means your personal needs do not come first.

About the Author

Barry McBride is a former associate partner with a top technology consulting firm. Today, he is publisher of The Orange & Brown Report, a Web site dedicated to covering Cleveland Browns football. He also works in Network Development for Scout.com, a division of Fox Interactive Media.

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