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The SNAFU principle

 
 
Monger
 
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2002 10:02 am
A priceless gem from the New Hacker's Dictionary...

The term 'SNAFU principle' comes from a WWII Army acronym for Situation Normal, All F**ked Up. It states that true communication is possible only between equals, because inferiors are more consistently rewarded for telling their superiors pleasant lies than for telling the truth" -- often invoked by hackers to explain why authoritarian hierarchies screw up so reliably and systematically. The effect of the SNAFU principle is a progressive disconnection of decision-makers from reality.

This lightly adapted version of a fable dating back to the early 1960s illustrates the phenomenon perfectly.


In the beginning was the plan, and then the specification; And the plan was without form, and the specification was void.

And darkness was on the faces of the implementors thereof; And they spake unto their leader, saying: "It is a crock of ****, and smells as of a sewer."

And the leader took pity on them, and spoke to the project leader: "It is a crock of excrement, and none may abide the odor thereof."

And the project leader spake unto his section head, saying: "It is a container of excrement, and it is very strong, such that none may abide it."

The section head then hurried to his department manager, and informed him thus: "It is a vessel of fertilizer, and none may abide its strength."

The department manager carried these words to his general manager, and spoke unto him saying: "It containeth that which aideth the growth of plants, and it is very strong."

And so it was that the general manager rejoiced and delivered the good news unto the Vice President. "It promoteth growth, and it is very powerful."

The Vice President rushed to the President's side, and joyously exclaimed: "This powerful new software product will promote the growth of the company!"

And the President looked upon the product, and saw that it was very good.



After the subsequent and inevitable disaster, the suits protect themselves by saying "I was misinformed!", & the implementers are demoted or fired.
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patiodog
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2002 10:05 am
That's great. Truly.

I'm assuming you've heard the one about corporate policy and the cage of monkeys?
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Monger
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2002 10:13 am
Tell!
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patiodog
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2002 10:30 am
Okay. Let's see if I don't screw it up.

You put five monkeys in a large cage. At the back of the cage is a stairway leading to a doorway. Whenever a monkey goes up and opens the door, all the monkeys are blasted with a firehose (or whatever -- something unpleasant happens).

After a few attempts at opening the door, the monkeys give up.

Now, you remove one of the monkeys and replace it with a new one. This monkey doesn't know what's up, so he starts to climb the stairs. The other monkeys, not wanting to get hit with the hose, yank him violently off the stairs. He tries this a couple of times, with the same results, and grows to understand that whenever he tries to climb the stairs he will be attacked by the other monkeys.

Now, replace another of the original monkeys with a new monkey. The same procedure happens as with the first new monkey -- only, not wanting to be left out and assuming that all the violent preventative measures must have some purpose, joins in the yanking.

So, you replace yet another of the original monkeys with a new monkey. Now you have only two original monkeys, but you have four who will yank the newcomer off the stairs. Replace another of the original monkeys, and yet another, and you will have the same results. In the meantime, you get rid of the firehoses. There would be no consequence if any of them went up the stairs and opened the door. Nonetheless, the yanking continues, even though you now have none of the original monkeys, so none of the monkeys knows why you're not supposed to open the door. That's just the way things are.

And that's how company policy works.
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Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Jul, 2003 06:03 pm
Geeat stuff! I hadn't seen this.
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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Jul, 2003 06:29 pm
Lovely, Monger!

Now I know why my team at work is sooooooooo unpopular with bad managers - we go to them and say directly, in unison - (except for one person, who is a traitor and so forth) - "It is a crock of ****, and smells as of a sewer." And: "Furthermore, you have no clothes!"

We have always wondered why they don't like us!
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jespah
 
  1  
Reply Sat 5 Jul, 2003 06:10 am
dlowan, this is why QA (quality assurance) is always one of the first departments to be let go in a recession.

QA says unpleasant things, like -
* the users won't understand it
* it's easy to make it crash
*it's too expensive, here's 5 ways to make it cheaper
* it isn't consistent with all of the ways we've successfully done it in the past
* there are too many steps; here's how to make it easier and faster
etc.

Independent QA makes programmers and managers alike look bad. As a result, independent QA teams are seen as an unpleasant "luxury" and are often laid off first. And then programmers are given QA tasks to do, which explains why software often looks and behaves the way it does.
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SealPoet
 
  1  
Reply Sat 5 Jul, 2003 06:46 am
Monger wrote:
Interesting anaogy there, patiodog. Very Happy


Love it! Half analogy, half agony!

My company is suffering from the pervasive shitty outlook that comes from having its head up its ass (hey, Crave, can I say this here?).

Thursday, with Friday a holiday, they tell me I am wanted abroad on Monday... Ummm... this problem has been brewing for a while, why didn't anyone ask me two or three weeks ago. Not only would it have made things possible for me to go, but the plane tickets would have been about half the price!
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morganwood
 
  1  
Reply Wed 9 Jul, 2003 10:27 pm
True story! I was fortunite enough to be part of a group of senior managers that had a couple (including me) that simply spoke up. We worked in a juvenile detention center that housed 240 juveniles.

During a meeting the superintendent noted that our facility had the highest level of students on medication. He was concerned that it would come to the Commissioners attention and he would have to justify it. He said he had decided to stop all medication for students for a period of 1 month and then have the medical staff re-evaluate the students and also review student behavior logs. Then re-administer medications to students who needed them. He then asked for comments. Looks went around the table. I brought up liability and student issues and told him I thought it was ill advised. He nodded and then asked Wayne, another Senior manager I dearly loved, what he thought and Wayne replied "Outside of that being the stupidest ******* idea you've had in about 6 months, I have no problem with it!". I went nuts! The superintendent said "We'll discuss your ideas after the meeting" and moved to another topic.

The 3 that sucked up and just smiled are still there. The 4 of us with other thoughts now work at other locations. (I'm retired). They weren't demoted, just transferred. Now there are 7 monkeys and a Superintendent.
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roger
 
  1  
Reply Wed 9 Jul, 2003 10:30 pm
I would'a gone nuts too, Morganwood.
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morganwood
 
  1  
Reply Wed 9 Jul, 2003 10:52 pm
When the Superintendent first started he had a staff meeting with all the staff. He told them, among other things, that he was there as a calling from God. After the meeting, Wayne and I were in his office and he asked us how we thought it went. I told him that I thought it was a damn nice sermon but that he'd be hearing from Punctus Pilot (sp?) He was offended. Four or five days later the Commissioner called and asked him to explain the 15, or so, letters he had received claiming that he had told the staff that he was going to run a "Christian Institution." I rested my case.

Another time Wayne and I were in his office and he said that he had a secret to tell us. I told him I already knew it. I paused and then said "You are wearing your wifes underware!" Wayne had to leave the office to keep it together. I was spoken to.

Like I said, there were transfers. In state government you have to do stuff like that or just be a monkey. There is no in-between.
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morganwood
 
  1  
Reply Wed 9 Jul, 2003 10:55 pm
I was sitting here laughing while I typed and it occurred to me that I could probably write a book of "State Government" stories. There are enough monkeys around to make it look like a research lab!
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morganwood
 
  1  
Reply Wed 9 Jul, 2003 11:00 pm
Every year, all senior staff are required to read all of the policies and procedures for the Department of Childrens Services and make comments. Some changes are made but no policies are ever removed. One year I was doing my review and a staff person came into my office and bitched about staff on the units not rinseing the mops and just leaving them sitting around. I told him I'd look into it. As a lark, I wrote a policy in the appropriate state format addresseing the proper storage and maintenance of mops and handed it in with my policy review comments.

Yep, there is now a state policy for mop maintenance!
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Thu 10 Jul, 2003 05:24 am
Not long after i got out of the army, i got a job as the evening suprevisor of the business office of a hospital. They had a new hot shot business office director, who had conceived of and spent a great deal of money on a seven page admission form (carbon, not NCR form) which was attached to a patient record sleeve in medium weight manila--and it was a nightmare to load in the typewriter. The thickness of the form meant that from copy two on down, no carbon produced an easily readable copy. Only the top page could be read with any reliability. Making a typing error was a nightmare. Those using the form adapted by taking down all of the patient information on a pad of paper, and then, later, slowly and carefully typing it onto the form, in the hope of avoiding all errors. So, the new improved form actually involved a greater waste of time, and a drastic degradation in the quality of the documents kept on file, than the old procedure of typeing a four page NCR form, and then hand writing brief "chits" to the departments which needed to know about the patient, but didn't need the large volume of information on the new form.

I was sitting in the office of the director of finance and we were casually discussing the form, because she knew everyone who worked with patients in the business office were unhappy, and wanted to know why. The new director of the business office walked by the door just as i happened to state that the form was a nightmare and that my staff and the staff of the day shift were falling further and further behind. He was horrified and and immediately accused me of betrayal--that was the word he used. He threatened dire consequences; however, "Doctors' Hospital" was still run by the two doctors who had originally established it (this was in the final years before the monster of corporate medicine took over the country's medical system), so he eventually lost his job due to too much whining and the near universal complaints about his methods and systems. Eventually, the director of finance secured for me the authority i needed to exercise and the pay raise i'd been promised, but never received. Wouldn't happen in these times, of that i have no doubt.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Thu 10 Jul, 2003 08:09 am
You know, Monger, you should add the study of two other phenomena which were observed at the time of the birth of SNAFU . . . that is, FUBAR and JANFU

FUBAR: F*cked up beyond all recognition
JANFU: Joint Army-Navy F*ck up
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roger
 
  1  
Reply Thu 10 Jul, 2003 08:44 am
Have to pass on JANFU. Not enough civilian applications.
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morganwood
 
  1  
Reply Thu 10 Jul, 2003 11:48 am
I love forms that gather great volumns of information. If you ask what is done with then thwe answer is uaually "Well, we file them, of course!"
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Jul, 2003 02:18 pm
One of my favorites is the requirements which others put on your activities, without apparent regard to usefulness--that's just the way we do it ! ! !

For an example (of something about which i complained, and got the "that's just the way we do it" response), one of our customers requires two copies of each invoice i send them. If an accounts payable department wants that, i'll comply, but only if requested to do so--we do hundreds of invoices per annum, and not sending two saves on the printing of custom forms--as well as the reduced postage for mailings to most customers, who get several invoices at once. The customer i have in mind requires two copies, and sends one back to me, folded as i've folded it, and it's obvious that it was never touched, except to put it into the envelope with the check. I called and told them i didn't need that, they put the invoice number on the voucher stub of the check. I was told imperiously that they could not process invoices without it. I asked for a supervisor, who candidly admited that they just send that copy on to disbursements to mail back to me. I told her that i don't need that, and i'd save a few hundred invoice blanks per year if i weren't obliged to send it. This was, of course, the point at which i was told "we always do it that way"--which, of course, translates as "case closed." That's a private corporation; i'm sure you're all familiar with the heightened insanity of the government.
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