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Home > Audio, Podcast, Show > Archive: Thinning the Herd – January 27, 2006

Archive: Thinning the Herd – January 27, 2006

April 8th, 2009

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No, I am not speaking of layoffs, plant closures and terminations, but rather thinning your “herd” of out-dated projects, failed initiatives, worthless bureaucracy and old hardware and software. The New Year is a great time for taking a hard look at your work and getting rid of everything that no longer fits with your current vision, workload or budget.


Every company, every department and every high-tech worker has some project, some task, some system that needs to be put out of their (and your) misery. I can practically see you nodding your heads from here. There is the ancient mainframe that continues to run the one application that everyone depends on — the desktop PCs that can barely run the corporate email application – last year’s quality initiative that survives as nothing more than a binder on the shelf. All these items slow you down, wear you out and otherwise hinder your ability to get on with other important work. Now is the time to thin the herd and get back to a more productive state of mind.

First, you have to remember everything that is getting on your nerves. For the next 2 weeks you are going to make note of everything you encounter that needs to be replaced or retired. Take a notebook, maybe even one specifically for this task, with you wherever you go. Use it as your “outboard memory” capturing all those items that annoy you on a daily basis. If you work in an IT department, have everyone do this at the same time. Then, at the end of the week, gather all your notes into one central document that everyone can review and add to if necessary. Have one, 1 hour meeting and place some sort of priority on each item on the list. Keep the meeting as short as possible. Remember, this is designed to kill off time wasting problems, not waste more time. Now you have your game plan. Your task is to remove as many of these annoyances as possible.

Easy and Hard

Some of your annoyances will be easy to kill off. Move the data off that old server to a new one and then unplug the thing. Donate it to a worthy cause. Move some PCs around so that Mary in Accounting doesn’t feel she is working with a dinosaur of a computer, even if she doesn’t get a shiny new one. Stop using that 3 part form that requires the last, barely functioning, dot matrix printer in the company.

Other problems will be more difficult to solve, but merely taking action on them is a step in the right direction. You aren’t going to replace 40,000 lines of COBOL code overnight, but maybe now is the time to put a project team together and start moving forward. You can’t stop tracking purchase orders, but you can start investigating the process and how it might be better automated. For these more intractable problems, making any progress, no matter how small, is the goal.

In some cases, it is the extremely difficult problems that you want to attack first. Is there something that has been bothering you for months, or even years? Try to make some progress on it. You may not succeed this time, but you will feel better for trying and it is almost impossible to not have some small effect. Too often, these projects are considered so difficult that no one even tries to change them. Maybe your small push will create some momentum that might finally produce some change.

Finally, once you have gone through this process once, continue doing it, at least once per quarter. Even better, make it a constant on-going practice. It usually requires moments of re-dedication over the years, but making it part of your daily work will ensure a constant reduction in your most annoying problems. You will never solve everything, but you will feel better, and be much more productive, than had you not tried at all.

Every so often, you need to face those nagging, bothersome and, seemingly impossible problems in your work. You may be uncomfortable digging into old problems, but “thinning the herd” is the only way to insure the quality and productivity of your high-tech career.

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