Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Pay now or pay later

We have all heard this phrase but I think it is worth looking at what it really means and what the consequences are.

Paying now is to give the problem full consideration, evaluate proposed solutions, fully implement the selected solution, and ensure it is appropriately tested, according to the processes and procedures of the development methodology derigeur .

In some circumstances there simply is no choice, a piece of functionality must be in place for some specific reason, and most of us respect that reality, but, it has been my experience that there is an entire breed of managers out there for whom pay later represents a planning and scheduling methodology.

What are the consequences of this mindset:

1. The complexity of the problem space will be significantly higher. You can guarantee that whatever happens between the time when the decision to pay later is made and the time when the debt collector calls, the system will be considerably bigger and more complex than it is now.

2. Any cost estimates are completely invalid. Cost estimates are based on performing a piece of work in a given time frame, pay later makes that time frame unbounded.

3. Your more capable developers, note I did not say senior, will spend most of their time attempting to coax and cajole the system back to some sense of normality whilst your inept developers will be creating the next nightmare.

4. Eventually the team will realize that, despite being asked to sacrifice increasingly large parts of their personal life to make up for poor planning and inept decision making, their opinions contribute naught to said process.

5. The pay later crowd will be mindlessly promoted as they got the job done, regardless of the future cost, but eventually will reach their glass ceiling and spend the rest of the professional, term used loosely, lives managing a non critical systems staffed by like minded idiots.

6. The IT industry will lose lots of talented developers who can not bear the crushing mediocrity with which it is managed.

The pay later phenomenon has a sibling in the finance industry, the fiscal year bonus. We have just witnessed incredible turmoil in the financial markets, that, were it not for central bank intervention, would have seen several major institutions fail and the world economy with them.

The financial industry hands out bonuses based on current year performance, that seems appropriate, but when you consider that the future cost of trades and deals made in that year have significant and ongoing financial impact for years to come, one might expect the bonus calculation to factor in the cost of maintaining the instruments traded over their lifetime, and yet we continue to see large, maybe not so large, bonus payments being made. So it is for the pay later manager being promoted.

The next time you are involved in a pay now - pay later discussion, think about the consequences and remember that the person advocating pay later is probably the only person in the room that will benefit from the decision.