Issue 20
Volume 5 Number 4
August 2000

In This Issue

 •  Contents
 •  Cover Illustration
 •  Editorial
 •  The Hills Are Alight
 •  Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft
 •  Your Chance To Predict The Future
 •  Needs A Gantt Chart, Vern
 •  Lokta Plokta
 •  A Few Stills from the Ploktacam

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[Plokta Online]

Needs a Gantt Chart, Vern

RECENTLY I've been working on a project for our client, S, in the rural town of T. We don't want any more incidents like the unfortunate Z escapade, do we? So anyway, this project, which is intended to do I… look, it's another bloody internet portal, OK? All the downside of being in a and none of the advantages. Where was I? Oh, yes, stranded in the wilds of T.

This is my first encounter with our management consultancy arm, G. Up to now, I've always been working in the development and delivery end of the business, this is different. This is the real heart of consultancy, single-handedly carving the raw stuff of new business from the unformed protoplasm of the internet while all around the mad, blind, battle of e-commerce rages on. I'm supposed to be a technical architect, helping to define the mould that S hope to pour this new business into. Incidentally, did you know it's illegal to call yourself an architect in the UK unless you're designing buildings, and you also have to be a member of the RIBA to boot? I've never had an illegal job description before. Yes, this is my first time as a technical architect. Fortunately there are a handful of experts on the project, pointing out the true way and generally stopping me from collapsing into fits of giggles. No, must be serious, must share the values espoused by our leaders, must… hell, I don't get paid enough to be this serious. Mind you, I'm not sure I get paid enough for living away from home all week, working on an industrial estate in the middle of nowhere, starting work at 8am (it'd be earlier, but that's when the building gets unlocked) and with meetings going on past 9.30pm some nights.

Where to start? Remember when you were in kindergarten? Remember how some kids were really good at cutting out bits of paper, and doing collages, and making stuff with sticky-back plastic and so on? Remember their horror on discovering that this wasn't what school was really about? Ever wonder what happened to them? Management consultancy. No doubt about it. I reckon that G consumes something like 60% of the brown paper produced in the UK, and no, they don't wrap a lot of parcels. The walls of the office are covered with metres of brown paper. On them are stuck printouts of PowerPoint slides, charts of progress measured in every conceivable way and enough multicoloured Post-It notes to camouflage a small African country as an entry for the Eurovision song contest. Arriving at the office means unrolling the brown paper, cutting it into sheets and sticking up the latest set of PowerPoints. Then it's into the fray, IT stream (that's us) fighting with the business stream, customer stream and other assorted water features for which of us gets to stick our sheets of brown paper over the remaining bits of uncovered wall. You know, I really never thought it was going to be like this, sneakily hiding away piles of brown paper while their owners are off in Zurich or Paris and can't complain.

It turns out it's an anagram of 'One Grimmer Alien'

Of course, this is highly skilled use of brown paper, you realise. At our rates it would have to be. One time we let the project manager stick together a few sheets and he made such a mess that he hasn't been allowed to do it again. Senior management get to play too. The other day we went into the meeting room and discovered an immense sheet of paper, covered with pictures cut from magazines. It appears that this is a modern management technique for getting in touch with how your inner child feels about various parts of the business (and no, it was mostly Country Life, not Busty Babes in Leather). Maybe I should go into the thing in a big way. I've got lots of old magazines that might come in handy.

…and here's some brown paper I made earlier

This is a very new office. Since the whole business is several months short of going live, and they're still waiting for the focus groups to come back and tell them exactly what the business ought to be, things are a bit basic. When I got here, there were just a few clusters of desks in a big open-plan office, a couple of big stuffed toys, a colour laser printer (for printing PowerPoint slides) and a table football game. The stuffed toys (a bear and a dog) are the project mascots.

The table football is apparently an essential piece of management consultant's equipment. If two people can't reach an agreement, they go and play table football, first to 10 goals, and the winner gets their way. Apparently, there's a rule that says if you lose 10-nil you have to run round the office naked, but when someone did fail to score, she decided she was an exception. Meanwhile, office furniture has been sneakily appearing. A desk here, a set of pigeon holes there, a putting green by the window. The other day I was hand-waving in the direction of my sheet of brown paper, turned around and nearly walked into a potted plant that hadn't been there when I started. The network is an artform in Cat5 cable and gaffer tape, the PCs are all ultra-thin (no grotty old CRTs here) and everyone uses mobiles because only a couple of desks have got phones on them. It's a brave new world out there. Mind you, in the way of Internet start-ups, there seems to be a change of direction at least every other day. Our new lead architect has just told me to abandon all the brown paper we just spent the last two weeks compiling. He wants to take a completely different route, so several man-weeks of work is about to hit the shredder.

It'd all be great fun, if only so many of these guys weren't quite so earnest. It's the kind of place where everyone takes going down the pub terribly seriously because (1) it's bad because it's taking you away from work, but (2) it's good because it allows for team-building, knowledge-sharing and cross-cultural interaction (not to mention a bit of hard drinking in-between). Me, I'm all for cross-cultural interaction, though perhaps not as much as a couple of members of the team who took to spending rather more time in each others' company than the corporate guidelines allow.

--Steve Davies

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