Gramma's House, Hockey and Sh*t Disturbers

When I was a kid, i loved visiting my Grandma, up to a point.

My grandmother fit every stereotypical thing you could say about Grammas. There was lots of love, us kids were the most important thing in the world, there was a ton of food, and she had lived in her house for ever.

Now in those days, the idea of modernizing houses (especially in rural areas) didn't mean a 70" LCD with satellite.  It meant indoor plumbing... as in toilets.  My grandmother's house was of the vintage where things like electricity, running water, and toilets weren't available as options when it was built.

Which meant for a number of visits, when nature called, it called you out to the little house in the backyard, best known for being cold, dark, and odorous... just the kind of place where Shelob, the giant spider from Lord of the Rings would hide out waiting for prey, or at least a million or so of her smaller (but just as deadly) relations.

To my imaginative over active 8 year old mind, this meant that I would do ANYTHING (or in this case refrain from doing anything) that would require me to visit Shelob's house of horrors.

You can imagine my relief when my grandmother's house finally got modernized.

Perhaps your grandmother lived in a town or a city (or you are too young to share this childhood trauma), but you suffered the same trepidation when you went to the cottage or camping.  To those of us in the survivors of childhood outhouse trauma support group I say "God Bless indoor plumbing!"

Which gets me to my next point.

Skip ahead a few years.

I had gotten over my obsession with waste management or so I thought.  At the time, the consulting engineering company I worked for received a contract to modernize the waste water treatment plant for our city.

"Waste water" is a euphemism for the crap we produce. And there's a lot of it. Every community has a cadre of unsung heroes whose job it is to take all the crap we dish out, and do something to it so that it is safe to release into the environment. (I know some of you in middle management are thinking that's a perfect job description for your position... but I digress).

I learned much about the treatment of effluent, which is the word you can use to both sound intelligent and non-disgusting at the same time.  Some of this learning actually applies to IT leadership today.

At the treatment plant was a wall of recording monitors, which tracked the amount of effluent generated and treated.  This was monitored closely since if there was too much for the plant, the untreated effluent would be released into the environment.  Not a good thing.

Image: Wikipedia
For the most part, the needles ran low on the scale.  "Why all the extra capacity?" I asked.

My guide pulled up the chart from Saturday evening, which for many Canadians was Hockey Night in Canada.  With laser accuracy, he could pinpoint the start of the game, as well as when each commercial break occurred just by the spike in effluent flow when everyone got up and flushed their toilets at the same time.  I can only imagine the rush at the Superbowl breaks.

This taught me a valuable lesson on capacity planning.  Be very aware of the rhythms of your organization.  Do you have spikes in capacity requirements? When?  (Of course I could go off on the concept of Cloud Computing and IaaS, but I'll stick to the effluent for now).

Image: Wikipedia
Secondly, at the plant were large pools for certain things in the effluent (the solids) to settle and be separated from the non-solids.  At times, this large paddle would start up and stir things up, which was explained was very necessary for the effective treatment.  This "Effluent Agitator" appeared to have counterproductive purposes in my opinion.  Just when things looked good, the Uber-blender would descend and stir up the pond, which gets me to my next point.

At the treatment plant, the agitation was required to keep things moving at this stage of the process.  However, right after all this agitation, was a series of filtration systems to keep the junk from gumming up the works downstream. Having effluent flying around late in the process was not a good thing.

If we are honest, we can all name one or more people who could be described as a human version of an effluent agitator.  We likely call them sh*t disturbers.  When they come into the room we wince, because it means our nice tidy world or process, is going to get stirred up.

Sometimes complacency can draw our processes into a comfort zone.  Sometimes we need someone to come in and shake things up by asking hard questions, by seeking clarification, or by just not accepting what you are doing is good enough.

You should welcome these people.

You could learn from them.

They can help you do better.  Much better.

But before you go out an solicit a bunch of EAs you have to learn the difference between an "effluent agitator" and a plain old "sh*t disturber".

One has the best interests of the organization at heart.  The delivery of the message may have some rough edges, but ultimately it's the same thing you want.

The other just likes to stir things up for the sake of disruption. Their motives are not in the best interest of the organization.  Stay far away from these individuals.  Don't give them the audience and attention they deserve.

But first make sure that they fall into this second category.

You could be missing out on a valuable opportunity.

A final point.

EAs are beneficial, but welcome them in at the right time, at the point in the process where changes can be made.  Don't wait for input at the end of a project.  Otherwise things could get stirred up that just gum up the works.

To all the effluent agitators that have made a difference in my life, I thank you.  You keep me from being complacent.

I'll bet you've never read a post that tied together Gramma's house, Hockey Night in Canada, and effluent before.  I'd love your comments.  More like this? Less like this?  C'mon! Let's stir things up!

One final, final point...

Perhaps Mr. Heins and the crew at RIM should bring in a few EAs.  Just a thought...


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