What would Scooby do?

Beware the box of puppies

8 minute read

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fred from scooby doo
Ask not for whom the consultant bills.
He bills for thee.

It would be hard to find a cartoon that better exemplifies formulaic plotting than Scooby Doo. I have a three year old son and am consequently something of an expert in the exploits of Scooby and his colleagues. When not in the office I am lucky enough to spend all my time (and I mean all) watching episode after episode over and over again. If it weren’t for the munificent schedulers at the Boomerang Channel I’m not sure what I would do with my free time.

In case you aren’t as fortunate as me, and are forced to drink beer, watch a bit of sport, or generally enjoy yourself at the weekends, here’s how every episode goes:

The gang pull up at some implausibly remote location in the Mystery Machine. Barely any time elapses before groaning ghosts or moaning monsters are discovered. A couple of minor skirmishes take place and a faintly ridiculous plan is hatched to capture said ghosts/monsters. Scooby and/or Shaggy are designated as the bait (but only after the promise of an impractically large sandwich and/or Scooby-snack). The plan goes wrong and a super-chase ensues, there’s some music and Scooby and Shaggy engage in a humorous out-of-character interlude with the ghosts/monsters. Eventually some ad-hoc but accidental trap is fashioned, ghosts/monsters are caught and unmasked as, surprise surprise, villains. The police turn up, the magic phrase “I would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you pesky kids” is evoked and there’s a final amusing incident where everybody laughs at Scooby doing something vaguely inane. The end.

But what, I hear you cry, has any of this got to do with IT?

Well, I decided to write up a short article on practical things that can be done to benefit a delivery environment. After a recent mini rant about change programs and transformations, I felt some more detail was needed on real things that can be done instead of getting distracted by that kind of uber change. It’s not that change programs are bad per se, it’s just that they get very big very quickly and sometimes the original purpose gets lost in a lot of paperwork and finance.

So anyway, as a precursor to the new article, I’d been thinking about the seductive and alluring quicksand that a change program is, and musing (more for my own benefit than anything) on why it’s so easy to get suckered into one in the first place. And I thought of Scooby Doo.

Or not Scooby himself exactly, more the crooks that get captured in each episode. Now, it’s not often you’ll hear me say this, but let’s look at life from the villain’s perspective for a moment:

You set yourself up in diamond smuggling (or similar criminal activity) and augment your business plan with the idea of dressing up as a ghost to scare people away from your hideout. All is well for a time. Then, one day, a van pulls up that looks like it was painted by a sixties hippy who’s taken one puff too many. You don your scary costume and chase an overweight dog and someone who looks like the singer from a Seattle grunge band around a bit. Their friends don’t seem so easily scared but they are at least dumb enough to think a Rube Goldberg trap is the best way to catch you. Predictably it fails. You’re free. You’re scaring them. Keep at it. They’re on the run now. Just don’t.. wait a minute.. what are you.. why are you country dancing with Scooby and Shaggy who have inexplicably dressed up as mid-nineteenth century American Civil War re-enactors? Or ordering a meal at a makeshift canteen counter while Scooby and Shaggy pretend to be michelin-starred chefs?

You see? You took your eye off the ball. You engaged in the extemporised charade and now you’re caught. It’s game over for you.

Diamond smuggling is the business. The crooks are the employees.

And the Scooby Doo team are consultants.

Yes. We’re back to consultants, the besuited meddlers of the modern age. And yet it all happened so quickly. One minute you were a business, with typical business challenges, the next trussed up in your Halloween garb watching a dog make jokes at your expense. You call a post-project review. You had a reasonable enterprise on the go. Of course you could have done better - been more efficient maybe, hired better staff. But at least you were out there, doing your thing.

So where did it go wrong? Let’s look at the evidence:

The Unnecessarily Ostentatious Vehicle

Our first clue was the arrival of that van. Normal people have normal cars. Anyone who adopts that kind of style over substance in the vehicular department surely cannot be trusted. You just know that paint job was paid for with their last bonus cheque. The one boosted by the commission they received for all the other consultants they managed to bring onsite at the last place (which incidentally ended in confusion and disappointment for the staff but with a nice big bill from the consultancy).

Fred: The Sales Lead

You know Fred is the sales lead because he has sales lead hair. But come off it. Who dresses like that? Is that a cravat? Fred is your mate, your pal, from the moment he enters your office, his specialities are a firm handshake and plenty of compliments. You work with technology so your sense of humour is on the dry side. People like Fred never know whether you are joking or not, so they laugh out loud every time just to be sure. You know this is fake, but it still feels good.

Velma: The Brains

No team would be complete without some poor geek yanked out of the basement and allowed to talk to real people for a day. Velma is onsite at the early meetings because she’s the only one who knows what she’s talking about. All consultancies have these people. They are practical, eloquent and genuinely understand your problems. They talk at conferences and sometimes are allowed to write books. They’re good, but they’re rare. All you need to know is that you won’t see them again once you’ve signed on the dotted line. They’re needed for the next bid.

Daphne: The Account Manager

Daphne is clearly account manager material: beautiful, fashionable and, yep, way out of your league. If you have the final say so on this deal you might get some free tickets to a major sporting event, but don’t think about anything else. You’ll just get drunk on cheap champagne and embarrass yourself.

Scooby & Shaggy: The Project Team

Now these are the boys you’ll be dealing with from day one. Whatever your local currency is, these chaps costs a few thousand of them a day - work on an average of about four times what you pay your current staff (you know, those people that already understand what doesn’t work). Of course you don’t trust your current staff because they must be responsible for needing a change program in the first place. But don’t worry, Scooby and Shaggy will spend plenty of your money putting all that’s already known by your staff into PowerPoint presentations, except instead of words like “better equipment” they’ll say “leveraged environments”. That has to be worth the money - I’d much rather have a leveraged environment than better equipment.

The Overly Ambitious (and plainly stupid) Plan

The first draft of the plan will give you leverage up the wazoo and will have a budget requirement similar to that of a small country. Not only will you not be able to afford it, you won’t be able to understand it. But that’s the plan. You have to say no to this one because then, when everything falls apart later, it will be your fault for not going with “Option A”. You see you said you wanted something called “industry best practice”, but if you want to scrimp and cut corners, “what you already had” can be found somewhere in there I’m sure.

The Distraction

Many months pass. Some of your good staff have hit the job sites and gone. More consultants, with job titles containing words that made no sense, like evangelist and champion, turned up, presented slides and ran workshops that took key operational staff out of action for hours. What was centralised has been decentralised, what was decentralised has been centralised and much of what you had is still there, and still the same, but now with the prefix “enterprise” or “strategic”. And lots and lots and lots and lots of money has been spent.

Time for the “box of puppies” trick.

You demand a meeting with Fred and Daphne. Fred is now a COO and you just aren’t important enough for him to see these days and Daphne works for a competing consultancy. So Frank and Daisy turn up. They are very sorry, but you did select “Option B” and, let’s face it, nobody can work miracles.

This makes you very mad and just as you are about to utter words like “law suit” and “bad publicity” they place a plain cardboard box on your desk. You open the lid and inside are three little cwuddly wuddly cream Labrador puppies. Oooh they’re so cute. This one is Mr Tickle and this one is.. wait a minute.. what are you.. you look up and the office is empty. The van is missing from the car park. They’ve gone.

You walk out onto the floor and one of your developers who, through some strange sense of loyalty, has stayed throughout all the turmoil, raises an eyebrow and says, “We only needed better equipment and a few more people. Maybe a couple of tweaks to the project process. An intranet site would be nice and perhaps the odd training course. It’s all in the email we sent two years ago with the plan of how to start. And we would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those pesky kids.”