Yet another crisis pep talk

December 8th, 2008 by avaj

The economic crisis lately generates a large portion of the media articles. In the IT world, news that not even giants are safe (”Google scales down Christmas party!”) are making all of us gulp. And since computers are indispensable to just about any kind of business, throwing stones in this pond will surely send ripples throughout the whole system.

And yet, one of the things we keep reading about is that a crisis is ultimately beneficial, weeding out sub-optimal processes, weak companies and setting the foundation for a healthier economy. A boom then ensues, with freeloaders getting a ride along the legitimately successful, until it’s time for another weeding session.

Now, a newly-unemployed person might punch the utterer of such idea right in its optimistic nose. It’s great to have a spring cleanup, unless you are the cobweb who gets swept. How can companies avoid it?

The answer is not simple, of course. And by no means do I pretend to have it. All kinds of complex (sometimes murky) factors are at play, determining who survives and who doesn’t. However, one of the views is that companies should focus more energy on fulfilling their customer’s needs - even if said consumers are fewer or poorer. If you have EXACTLY what people want, and your rival doesn’t, people will still buy from you and keep you floating.

Dumbing it even further - if you’re selling vitamins on-line, now it’s not the time to have a faulty Web site. If you’re producing software, make sure the new version is not as buggy as the previous one. It might be your last.

Ack! How can one invest in quality when money is tight? Quality almost always costs extra. But if quality is so low that you can’t afford to wait until after the crisis to fix it, what else is there to do (besides punching yourself in the nose, for letting quality slip in the first place)?

Again, no simple answer. Taking a long hard look at each process, and how it affects the big picture, might yield some clues. A cost-benefit analysis of said processes might shed some light on where to splurge and where to tighten the belt. Hiring a pricey consultant to tell you that the office uses too many paper-clips will definitely help ;-)

It’s a safe bet that most authors and readers of an IT blog/forum are technical persons (I hear the term “geek” is going out of fashion). Thinking about economy is not exactly natural to us. A well-designed piece of code has clarity and beauty, while economic issues are inherently fuzzy. But in times like these, they’re unavoidable - whether we’re regular employees, managers or business owners.

‘Cause another safe bet is that anyone can find one small area where his/her company spends too much, and another where it spends too little - small things that in the end have an impact on overall product quality. And which can be seen better from below, not from a rarefied throne. Why not make a note, and bring it up at the next meeting or coffee-break with your boss? Who knows, it might even trigger a change - some crisis-scared people become more receptive to suggestions.

That being said, I’m off to do some paper-clip counting.

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