Grandpa’s Story

Now I have become a grandfather it’s time for a blog post about lessons learned in life.

One of my favourite authors as a young man was Cyril Northcote Parkinson, the grand father of the famous Parkinson’s Law saying:

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

Early in my career I learned how true this is. My first experience was also like the statistics behind Parkinson’s Law from within public administration, but later I learned that private enterprises are just the same.

My first real job after graduation was at the Danish Tax Authorities. After having worked there a few years I was assigned on a mission to assist the Faroe Islands Financial Authorities in developing a modernised tax collection solution.

The Faroe Islands

For those readers that hate old people not sticking to the subject – please continue to the next headline.

For those readers who don’t have a clue about where on earth the Faroe Islands are: Well. 1000 years ago the Vikings sailed out from Scandinavia and finally made it to say hello to the Native Americans – 500 years before Columbus. When doing that they used islands in the Northern Atlantic as stepping stones. First British Isles, then Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland and finally Newfoundland at the American coast.

Just like Columbus found America by mistake, as he was actually looking for India, the Vikings probably also found America and the stepping stones by mistake when getting lost on the ocean during storms.

1/100

Back on track. The mission for the Faroe Island Authorities I joined in the early 1980’s seemed impossible. As the Faroese population is only 1/100 of the population of the continental Denmark there were of course only 1/100 of the resources available for making a solution doing exactly the same as the solution built for continental Denmark

But what I learned was that the solution actually was built using only those resources and in surprisingly short time (and with minimal help from me and my colleagues).

While I during my career have worked in both modest sized organisations and large organisations I have noticed numerous examples on how exactly the same task may consume resources not sized by the nature of the task but by the size of the organisation.

People and technology

Maybe this observation is an explanation to the ever recurring subject on whether people or technology is most important when doing projects like improving data quality. If the technology part is (close to) constant but the over-all resource consumption grows with the size of the organisation in question, well, then the people part becomes more and more important by the size of the organisation

Tool making

I have tried single handed to build a data quality tool – or to be more specific a data matching tool. At several occasions it has been benchmarked with products residing as leaders in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for data quality tools, and it didn’t come out short. Some of the features included in the product called SuperMatch are described in the post “When computer says maybe”.

It’s my impression, that if you look at tool vendors with many employees, it’s only a very small group of people who is actually working on the tool

2 thoughts on “Grandpa’s Story

  1. kenoconnordataconsultant 15th March 2010 / 11:22

    Henrik,

    You are of course correct about team sizes. In the 90’s I worked in the development lab of a large IT company. The company employs thousands of people, and develops hundreds of software products and tools. I worked within a relatively small team.

    I have a related story. I spent my early working years at Aer Lingus, the Irish airline. In ’87, a colleague and I moved to London to work on a major British Airways project – to enable the BA system to interconnect with other Global Airline Reservations systems.

    At Aer Lingus, 50% of my colleague’s job involved maintaining the “Control Program Communications”. At British Airways, a team of 20 people worked full time on “Control Program Communications”.

    It was fascinating to observe how my colleage “orchestrated” the required work. Each of the 20 people on the team was an expert in a “part” of “Control Program Communications”, but they lacked a “Big picture” understanding.

    Our initial “fear” – moving from a small airline, to a huge one, soon disappeared when we realised that “a good broad understanding of many things is often far more useful than a narrow expertise in one thing”.

    Rgds Ken

  2. Henrik Liliendahl Sørensen 16th March 2010 / 13:30

    Thanks Ken. Good story with the 1 to 40 proportion on doing the same job.

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