The Operations room is lit up like a set of traffic lights when the head beancounter asks the BOFH and the PFY to account for their time...

Year 1998 - Episode 35


An edict has come down from on high that we have to account for our time. It's all about accountability, internal recharging and all that jazz. Seems the boss has been getting grief for having such a big cost centre, so he's decided to make us into a profit centre by making people pay for our services. The financial director fell for the idea and appears to be writing us some terms, conditions and SLA clauses.

"We pay how much per hour?"

The PFY is startled by my exclamation, though realisation dawns as he looks at my screen-scrape of the financial director's Word window. It seems that our department loses money should my humble assistant or I be late fixing someone's machine. To the tune of a grand an hour, give or take a few pennies.

True, it's nice to labour under the misapprehension that they think we're worth that much, but in reality I suspect they're just trying to induce urgency. They also think we care how much the boss's budget loses, but that's another issue entirely.

"Quick, change it while it's in the print queue," the PFY shouts, seeing the 'Print' dialog appearing. He dives for his keyboard, but stops himself as he notices my smug grin.

Sure enough, a few days later the boss walks in, with the financial director in tow, to see how we're doing. Just so he can be kept happy we've installed a big 'job status' screen (103" TFT displays don't come cheap, but it had to be flat to be wall-mounted) which is showing lots of healthy 'green' jobs.

Allow me to explain. A 'red job is a call on which we have missed our deadline. A 'green' job, on the other hand, is a call which has been logged but not yet attended to, but whose deadline is still in the future. We persuaded the management that we didn't need to record completed calls, as they were largely irrelevant to progress. True, the fact that there weren't any made it even more pointless, but we didn't exactly press that issue.

"Good show, chaps," the financial director booms in his clipped retired-Army-lieutenant-who-still-calls-himself-colonel tones. (Note at this point the derivation of the word 'colonel', as in COLON-el). "Keeping ahead of things, I see!"

"Oh yes, sir, we make a point of hitting our targets." Yeah, but I'm not telling you what with.

The phone rings, and the PFY flinches at the intensity of the boss's "answer it or die" look.

He's certainly learning.

"Operations, PFY speaking."

The boss manages to shepherd the financial director out of the office while he's still happy, leaving the PFY to look after his 'customer'.

"Yes, I realise we haven't managed to get round to you yet, but we're very busy, and we're still within the permitted fix time - yes, I know you called on September 8th - yes, I know it's the 30th today. What's that? Sure, I'll just look it up - ah, here it is. 14 April 2003 seems to be the deadline. Tell you what, I'll call you on the 13th just to make sure you still work here, just so I don't waste my time coming up to your office only to find you've fallen out of a window. No, that's not a threat, just a vision of the future. Bye now."

The days pass and we while away the time as our part-time assistant (drafted in for two hours a week to cope with the vast demand being placed on our human resources) knocks off the odd job here and there just so the board isn't too full.

Meanwhile, unrest is growing among the users, who don't seem to realise just how hard it is to keep that board full of green call reports. It's a full fortnight before the boss catches on to what we're up to. It took him a while, but his training is coming along nicely and every so often he spots what's happening.

"Tell me," he prompts, "just how many calls actually get as far as being closed?"

"Depends how you mean 'closed'," I reply.

"Like, problems getting solved."

"Depends what you mean by 'solved'."

"AAAAAGGGGHHHHHH!!"

"Okay, let me explain. We set deadlines to give ourselves enough time to do the job properly. Right?"

"Riiigggghhhhttt..."

"We have two alternatives. First, we can go and fix the problem. This takes time and draws us away from our real job."

"And I'm not even going to ask what you think that is. What's the other option?"

"We sit in the pub doing essential network maintenance and, by the time the many-months-off deadline arrives, the problem, or preferably the user, has gone away. The deadline generator is tied into the HR staff turnover measurement system."

A twinkle in the boss's eye tells me he's plotting. And he knows better than to come up with anything that isn't grossly beneficial to my spotty colleague and myself.

He strides off purposefully, returning half an hour later looking triumphant.

"I persuaded the financial director that stuff might get done a little bit before deadline if there was some incentive to our department for finishing jobs before deadline."

"How much?"

"Don't ask. Enough."

Within a day and a half the call-board is darker than a gorilla's groin, and the Operations beer-fund, which is index-linked to the boss's budget, is looking healthier than ever. I could grow to like the idea of accountability.