Rocks into Gold: Part 3


This short book by Clarke Ching is a "biztech" parable for software developers who want to survive—and then thrive—through the credit crunch. We have republished the book in a four-part series. In part three, when things seem at their very worst, Bob has a "light bulb moment" that just might save the day. Follow the story as our characters fight to keep their jobs by implementing creative business ideas and management skills taken from agile development.

Read Parts 1 and 2.

Brief Bit Where Bob does Nothing
Bob went back to work updating his pointless Flitzerboing-Ultra (FBU) documentation. There was no doubt that FBU was a great product. It was a shame it would never exist.

As soon as he finished, he checked his email. His eyes were drawn to an email from his favorite online bookseller. He had ordered three books but one was delayed. They would ship the two books that were available right away—for which Bob was thankful, because two books was surely more useful than none—and they would ship the other book in a couple days, when it became available. They were going to swallow the extra shipping charge, too—a small gesture that pleased Bob.

How Could We Make this Situation Worse?
When Bob got to his desk the following day, his two books were waiting for him. He tore open the packaging with childlike glee. One was a technical book about a programming language Bob was learning in his spare time. The other was a science fiction novel. They were nothing to do with his job, but he had them posted to the office so he could enjoy moments like these without his wife asking him where he was going to put the books. His house was already full of books, as was his garden shed (his wife called it his "library"). Bob loved books. He sniffed the newness of his new books, and then put them in his carry bag. Tonight, my darlings, you are mine.

Bob logged into his computer and skimmed his emails. Nothing urgent, so he logged on to the bookseller's Web site and cancelled the book that hadn't shipped yet. It was a book about beekeeping—something Bob was interested in only on a theoretical level. He felt sad as he cancelled the book order, but he figured it was better to have that money in the bank given the current uncertainty with his job and his income.

While on his way to work, Bob had decided to learn more about the financial side of the FBU project. He called Gwendolyn, who managed KillerWattSoftware's relationship with MegaCorp, and asked if she could spare him ten minutes. (Bob didn't understand the difference between a "relationship manager" and a "salesperson.") Gwendolyn told him, in her delightful and friendly way, that she always welcomed visits from the troops.

Bob carefully avoided making small talk with Gwendolyn. He had heard she did a lot of networking in her evenings, but he was a software, not hardware guy, so he avoided the topic. Unless she was a hobby apiarist (or "beekeeper"), it seemed unlikely they would have anything in common to chat about. He came straight out with his question.

"What would have happened if the economy hadn't crumbled, the FBU project wasn't cancelled, and it took twenty-four months to deliver the project rather than twelve months?"

Gwendolyn took a few moments to parse his question, then looked at him suspiciously. Bob didn't care if the question sounded odd coming from technical staff. He was trying to solve a problem and, over the years, he had found that oftentimes the key to improving a difficult situation is to figure out what would make it worse and then do the opposite.

"Well, Bob, obviously I don't know the real numbers and neither does MegaCorp—they can't predict the future—but before the current crisis, we estimated that they would make around $2 million profit each month once it went live. So, to answer your question, if the economy hadn't collapsed but the project had run twelve months late, then MegaCorp would have lost $24 million profit."

"Maybe more, maybe less?" Bob asked.

"That's right."

"How about us? What would KillerWattSoftware lose?"

"Well, we'd have had to pay very high penalty charges. MegaCorp made it clear in the negotiations that the profitability of the FBU product depended on getting it to market as soon as possible. Now, this might sound crazy if you didn't know how much money they stood to make, but MegaCorp was willing to pay us more money if we delivered FBU in six months than we are receiving by delivering it in twelve months."

Bob wanted to say, "But that's crazy! Why would they pay more," because he knew the answer. MegaCorp was willing to pay KillerWattSoftware more because they would end up with loads more money, something like $12 million extra in their bank account. It was only a little different from paying a furniture company extra to deliver on a Saturday because it was convenient.

Gwendolyn added, "But we're not cowboys. We knew we couldn't make that commitment and keep to it, so we didn't."


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