Friday, June 12, 2009

Breaking the Prime Directive

If you're a fan of the Star Trek series, then you're familiar with the Prime Directive. If you're a REAL fan, then you know that it was originally referred to as the Non-Interference directive.

If you're not a fan of Star Trek, I can't imagine why you're reading this.

Anyway, the Prime Directive can be summarized as follows:

    The most important rule we have is that we don't interfere in the affairs of lesser-developed civilizations.

Dramatic tension is created when it becomes necessary to break the Prime Directive . . . because the "real world" is just never as simple as the high and mighty ideals we set for ourselves. As a result, the crew on Star Trek end up violating the Prime Directive approximately 75% of the time.

We all have prime directives in various roles we play and tasks we undertake.

  • Situation: It's the day of your server migration project and last night's backup wasn't perfect.
  • Prime Directive: You have to have a good backup before you begin a migration project.
  • Reality of this: If you've got generations of backups and can fill in the gaps with disc copies, most people find a way to get the migration started.

  • Situation: You have a client who is being unreasonable and abusive.
  • Prime Directive: Never raise your voice to a client.
  • Reality of this: On rare occasions, it is necessary to break the pattern of behavior and "reset" the situation. While I would never raise my voice to a client, interrupting the tirade is sometimes necessary.

  • Situation: It's 4:00 PM Friday and you've come to a full stop.
  • Prime Directive: Never start a new project at the end of the day or end of the week.
  • Reality of this: What are you going to do? You start a "small" project and hope that you don't break something at 4:59 PM and get stuck working until 8 or 9 at night.

  • Situation: A new service pack has been released for your operating system and you have a major presentation to make next week.
  • Prime Directive: Never install a service pack on a production machine until it has been "in the wild" for some period of time and you have tested it on less-important machines.
  • Reality of this: Technicians are strange people. Sometimes we can't help ourselves. That offer to apply updates is just staring you in the face. Sometimes you click.

  • Situation: A good client has his laptop stolen and wants a replacement ASAP.
  • Prime Directive: Company policy is that all hardware and software must be prepaid.
  • Reality of this: We're in the business of helping people with technology. If it's really a good client, and they know that they have to pay ASAP, most of us would order the laptop to be shipped overnight.

  • Situation: Wife asks "Do these pants make my butt look fat?"
  • Prime Directive: You must answer NO immediately, with no pause whatsoever.
  • Reality of this: You must answer NO immediately, with no pause whatsoever.

Other than that last one, we all know that there are times when you just have to break your "prime directives."

But, we also know that we're going to get zapped from time to time.

- That migration without the backup could turn into a three day disaster recovery program.

- If you yell at a client and the client fires you, you can't be too surprised.

- When you start a project at the end of the day, you run the risk that you'll create an urgent situation that didn't exist before. On Monday morning it might be minor. But when you have a family commitment and you've just taken down the network, you have no one to blame but yourself.

- Today service packs are extremely stable and almost never cause problems. Unless something unexpected happens. Again, you might find yourself in a bad situation that's all your own doing.

- 99% of the time, a client will be grateful that you got them out of an emergency. But every once in awhile they'll also take 60 days to pay for the laptop. Make a note: All hardware and software must be prepaid.

The Lesson is that these rules exist for a reason. Rules similar to these exist is all consulting companies that are 1) successful and 2) have been around for awhile. Why is that? Because simple rules that are followed consistently will save you money or make you money.

And the more frequently we ignore these rules, the more frequently we get zapped.

What "prime directives" do you have in your company?


Have you read The Big Switch by Nicholas Carr? It is a great glimpse into your future, with a fun look at how we got here.

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