BOFH: Knitting bobble hats on the steps of the guillotine

Year 2015 - Episode 10

Episode 10

"Good news!" the Boss blurts, rocketing into Mission Control in a frenzy, “I’m going to be heading a new working party to improve website usability."

"You poor bastard!" I gasp, "I didn't even see it coming!”

"See what coming?" the PFY says, lugging a box of recently replaced hard drives out of the server room.

"The boss is heading a 'working party' to investigate something about the website."

"Usability," the Boss chips in.

"Ah well," the PFY sighs.

"Ah well what?" the Boss chips in, defensively.

"When you've got someone on your staff that you want to stick it to, but you're afraid of the rather liberal employment laws, you create some fictitious role and then flush that – and them – down the crapper at the first opportunity," I say.

"I don't think that's the case," he chips back.

"Annoyed the Director recently? Perhaps mentioned the similarity between his wife's voice and the whine of a belt sander?"

"What?! No! He and I are getting on well. In fact, he owes me one for helping him out at a recent budget meeting. I managed to find a way to shave about 100 grand off the capital budget!"

"And how could that be a bad thing?" I say. "Telling Finance they can slash your Boss' budget by £100K. He’d never hold that against you!"

"It’s still a promotion!" the Boss snaps.

"So you're going to be taking on a bunch of additional responsibility?"

"No, it's more of a fixed-term secondment. Obviously, there will need to be some backfill of my position while the working party is under way."

"You know that scene in Goodfellas, when Joe Pesci's character walks out of the garage into the empty basement – then Bang! That's their version of a fixed-term secondment."

"What do you mean?"

"If you can't get rid of someone, you 'promote' them into oblivion."

"It's a lot more money!" he says, still in defence mode.

"If they only pay you for half a year it sort of cancels itself out,” the PFY counters.

"It's a 2-year contract."

"Which they'll void for 'failure to achieve performance objectives', once someone says the website's unusable."

"I can still go back to my old..."

“No, because 'technology's changed so much in the time you’ve been away' – regardless of how short a time it was. Your role's disestablished and there's a new role, like ‘Technical Functional Support Co-ordinator’ or some crap like that, which they've shoehorned your replacement into, avoiding any legal entanglements.”

“But that’s constructive dismissal!”

“Only if THEY create the role. But YOU created the role didn’t you?”

“No?” the Boss replies, uncertainly.

“But you did, didn’t you?” the PFY wheedles, noting the tinge of doubt in the Boss’ voice. “They said something like ‘Oh, I don’t know what we could possibly to about the web-blah-blah-blah’, and you said something vague about the place needing a good shake-up. They came back with something like ‘No – we really don’t know what we need in there, we really should just investigate the whole area, I suppose. But the review is such a senior position and so important that we’d have to earmark a significant amount of money just to pay the contractor – it’s a shame we don’t have any in-house resource that we could just second this role to, till we have it sorted’. AND YOU WERE IN THERE LIKE A ROBBER’S DOG!”

“I, uh...”

“I bet they waited for you to suggest a committee, working party or taskforce and then implied that it will be a lot of work. You, on the other hand, are thinking that you’ll be so busy wheelbarrowing cash to the bank that you might actually need someone to help you, and before you know it, you’ve created yourself out of a job.“

“In three months, when that usability clause kicks in,” I chip in.

“I, uh... what do I do?” he sniffs.

“If it was ME...” the PFY says.

“Yes?” the Boss asks.

“... I’d slip into the Director’s office and give him a couple of swift kicks to the scratch magnet. I mean, why not? You're for the high jump, anyway.”

What the PFY lacks in employment law he more than makes up for in insincerity.

"Or..." I say.

"Or?" the Boss echoes.

"... Or you crank the knob right round to 11."

"I'm not sure I follow."

"You beat the bastards at their own game."


"The MOMENT you imply you have any form of solution you are stuffed. Instead, you spend your time 'gathering information' to determine the problem."

"Yeah... I..."

"Pretend you're one of those touchy-feely consultant types that produce meaningless reams of paper which tell you everything you already know, make recommendations that have already been made and basically paraphrase everything they've been told until now. What's the first thing they do to rack up a bunch of cash?"

"Uh... do a survey?"

"YES! Crank out a 20+ question, hopelessly ambiguous survey which asks crap questions like 'Do you like our website?' 'Do you know anyone who uses our website?'"

"Right. 'And what do you like/dislike about our website?'" the Boss asks.

"Hell no! That's a stage 2 question!"

"Stage 2?"

"You're milking this baby like a Jersey/Friesian cross!" I say. "Stage 1 is yes/no questions. Stage 2 is a round of 20+ more questionnaires, each expanding on one of the Stage 1 questions. So you have a Stage 1 question like 'Do you like our website?' For the 'yes' people, you have a bunch of questions which expand microscopically on the question asked – i.e. 'Do you like the font of our site?' 'Do you like the layout of our site?' 'Do we use too much red on our site?'"

"I UNDERSTAND!" the Boss gasps. "Before I know it, I'll be back in my job just to stop me asking questions!"


"Or before he knows it, he'll be out of his job for repeatedly spamming our users," the PFY says.

"Indeed. And there'll be a short-term job wheelbarrowing money to the bank till the company can disestablish that position..."