Sunday, 20 June 2010

Management Speak

Management Speak is a form of communication which originated in business dialects of English but is now widely believed to have speciated into its own disctinct language, to the point where native English speakers are not necessarily conversant in it and vice versa. There is a theory that one long term consequence of globalisation could be that not English but Management Speak becomes the lingua franca for the developed world.

Syntax: Management speak comprises not just the traditional Roman alphabet but also the lexicon of wingdings, pull outs, bullets and animated transitions available in Management Speak-compatible (and enabling) applications like PowerPoint. The field of cultual linguistics increasingly treats management speak as a creole or pidgin; a jumping-off point from the Indo-European linguistic tradition and the first genuinely novel dialect to emerge since Latin (on which all western European languages are based) developed five thousand years ago. Ironically, Latin is central to management speak, having survived the millenia unadulterated in the loving care of the legal profession. The language and philosophy of PowerPoint is a controversial subject in its own right.

Origins: Management speak grows out of an insecure employee's need to make his own job sound more complex, technical and difficult than it really is. As such it leads to well-recognised phenomena like anti-abbreviation and the anal paradox. This is partly a defensive strategy, but more developed management speakers have used it successfully to promote their own careers beyond their credible end-point. On account of the speciation mentioned above, a management speaker's motivation to make his or her job sound more difficult can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, since nowadays to communicate at all with many middle managers one needs to be a management speaker, and it really is quite an art. Most business workers are to some extent bilingual, and usually carry on in a grim creole, in business and in life generally.

Relationship with Revenue Generation: Studies have shown a reasonably firm inverse relationship between the amount of management speak in a speaker's active vocabulary and the measurable benefit that speaker contributes to an enterprise's bottom line. In other words, the further away a function is from profit generation, the more management speak you should expect to hear.

Middle Manager

Middle managers are office workers who have no purpose in an organisation other than to propagate their own spawn. They tend to be canny survivors. The genus has evolved a number of brilliant evolutionary tricks and extended phenotypes to confound, obfuscate, blur and generally confuse matters in a way which (i) isn't directly attributable to them (though it often leaves other office workers with a vague but unprovable sense that they're responsible) (ii) conceals the fact that, whatever else may be going on, they’re not really helping.

Middle managers communicate (or "dialogue") in their own idiom, known to their own kind as "English", but to everyone else as "management speak". In fact, it is only distantly related to English.

One of the most widely recognised phenotypes of the Middle Manager is PowerPoint which itself has contributed to the evolutionary development and cognitive architecture of management speak. Some theories (such as the business worker archetypes) define a middle manager purely by reference to its use of PowerPoint. Middle managers are also fond of (and much beloved by) Business Analysts.

Middle managers will call themselves many things, but never "middle managers". "Chief of Staff" and "Chief Operating Officer" are common and highly prized titles.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Business Analyst

The law of unintended consequences made flesh, wearing braces, speaking incomprehensibly and weilding powerpoint slides.
Admit it: you want to punch each of them.
Business Analysts are temporary contractors engaged by Middle Managers supposedly to manage Banner IT Projects but in reality they function rather like weed killer, stifling dissent by confusion, discombobulation and distraction.

The result is that such a "good corporate citizen" is rendered unable to react and, well before he knows it, the game is lost.
Confusion is largely caused by the particular dialect of Management Speak which includes not only usual characteristics of powerpointese and management buzzwords, but also the IT metaphor. That is, along with the usual quick wins, low hanging fruit and granularity, you'll have to hack your way through flat files, APIs, C++ and unique identifiers.

Discombobulation largely "driven" by advanced PowerPoint techniques, liberal use of bullseye diagrams, Gantt charts, Visio process flow-diagrams and an uncanny ability to grossly over simplify.

Distraction largely caused by the seizure of initiatives and arbitrary and unasked imposition of deadlines. Good corporate citizenry is not your friend here: a well-meant offer of information, time or resource will quickly be converted into "actionable items" and "deliverables" which, given aforesaid tendency to oversimplification, will invariably be unachievable, unrealistic and in fact counter-productive.

The result is that such a "good corporate citizen" is rendered unable to react to the Business Analyst's opening gambit and, well before he knows it, the game is lost.  A Business Analyst will thus invariably leave you and your immediate organisation worse off. It is vital therefore to employ defensive strategies:

Get your retaliation in first: before the meeting begins - or at any rate within moments of its start, create deliverables of your own and assign them to the Business Analyst. It doesn't matter how meaningless they are - there is something to be said for doing some confusing and discombobulating of your own (it is certainly highly satisfying) but the real art is actually delegating genuine work you need done yourself.

Shut down defensive strategies: Call the meeting quickly to a close. A simple magic password phrase will do (glance at watch; "sorry - I have to jump a call") but smiling confidently, shaking a hand and walking off will usually suffice against a novice.

Don't let the assignment lapse: Chase up but using one-way communications (voice mail, email, instant message). Responses can be safely ignored.

Banner IT Project

A fine principle; a forlorn actuality. "Banner" IT Projects thrill Middle Managers and terrify everyone else. They tend to get described with aspirational adjectives: "Transformational". "Paradigm-Shifting". "Game-Changing". They are usually accompanied by scores of enthusiastic, Power-Point-toting Business Analysts.

Measured against its original terms of reference, there is no such thing as a complete or successful Banner IT Project. Usually they continue in perpetuity and, like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, you just have to live with them. Occasionally they are (finally) implemented, but even then limp along unsatisfactorily without delivering a tenth of their original promise. A successful Banner IT Project is simply one that is not so catastrophic that it doesn't need to be immediately replaced (or worked around using excel spreadsheets, hand-filled forms and a scanner).

Invariably, the more ambitious an IT project is the worse it will be, the more poorly will its accompanying Business Analysts understand the project, the organisation or the basic tenets of human nature needed for the project to be a success, and the more it will cost the organisation in terms of direct expense (hiring Business Analysts and IT licence fees) and indirect expense (otherwise useful employees being diverted, distracted, disenfranchised and ultimately eaten by the project).