Recently I've been working on a project for our client, S, in the rural town of T. We don't want any more incidents like the unfortunate Z escapade, do we? So anyway, this project, which is intended to do I look, it's another bloody internet portal, OK? All the downside of being in a dot.com and none of the advantages. Where was I? Oh, yes, stranded in the wilds of T.
This is my first real encounter with our management consultancy arm, G. Up to now, I've always been working in the development and delivery end of the business, this is different. This is the real heart of consultancy, single-handedly carving the raw stuff of new business from the unformed protoplasm of the internet while all around the mad, blind, battle of e-commerce rages on. I'm now a technical architect, helping to define the mould that S hope to pour this new business into. Incidentally, did you know it's illegal to call yourself an architect in the UK unless you're designing buildings, and you also have to be a member of the RIBA to boot? I've never had an illegal job description before. Yes, this is my first time as a technical architect, fortunately there are a handful of experts (well, more expert than me, anyway) on the project, pointing out the true way and generally stopping me from collapsing into fits of giggles. No, must be serious, must share the values espoused by our leaders, must hell, I don't get paid enough to be this serious. Mind you, I'm not sure I get paid enough for living away from home all week, working on an industrial estate in the middle of nowhere, starting work at 8am (it'd be earlier, but that's when the building gets unlocked) and with meetings going on past 9.30pm some nights.
Where to start? Remember when you were in kindergarten? If you're having difficulty recalling what happened last week, pretend, OK? Remember how some kids were really good at cutting out bits of paper, and doing collages, and making stuff with sticky-back plastic and so on? Remember their horror on discovering that this wasn't what school was really about? Ever wonder what happened to them? Management consultancy. Yup, no doubt about it. I reckon that G consumes something like 60% of the brown paper produced in the UK, and no, they don't wrap a lot of parcels. The walls of the office are covered with metres and metres of brown paper. On them are stuck printouts of PowerPoint slides, charts of progress measured in every conceivable way and enough multicoloured PostIt notes to camouflage a small African country as an entry for the Eurovision song contest. Arriving at the office means unrolling the brown paper, cutting it up, putting masking tape round all the edges and sticking up the latest selection of PowerPoints or whatever. Then it's into the fray, IT stream (that's us) fighting with the business stream, customer stream and other associated water features for which of us gets the right to stick our sheets of brown paper over the few remaining bits of uncovered wall. You know, I never thought internet consultancy was going to be like this sneakily folding away complicated assemblages of brown paper while their owners are away in Zurich and can't complain.
Of course, this is highly skilled use of brown paper, you realise. At our rates it would have to be. One time we let the project manager stick together a few sheets and he made such a mess that he hasn't been allowed to do it since. Of course, senior management get to play too. The other day we went into the meeting room and discovered an immense sheet of brown paper, covered with pictures cut from magazines (and we're talking Country Life here, not Big and Busty Monthly or Motorcycle Chicks In Leather). It appears that this is a modern management technique for getting in touch with how your inner child feels about various parts of the business. Maybe I should go into the dot.com thing in a big way. I've got lots of old magazines that might come in handy.
This is a very new office. Since the business is still several months short of going live, and they're still waiting for the focus groups to come back and tell them exactly what the business ought to be, things are a bit basic. When I got here, there were just a few clusters of desks in a big open-plan office, a couple of stuffed toys, a colour laser printer (for printing PowerPoint slides) and a table football game. The stuffed toys are the project mascots. The table football is apparently an essential piece of management consultant's equipment. If two people can't reach an agreement, they go and play table football, first to 10 goals, and the winner gets their way. Apparently, there's a rule that says if you lose 10-nil you have to run round the office naked, but when someone actually did fail to score, she decided she was an exception. Meanwhile, office furniture has been sneakily appearing. A desk here, a set of pigeon holes there, a putting green next to the window The other day I was hand-waving in the direction of my current sheet of brown paper, turned around and nearly walked into a potted plant that hadn't been there when I started my peroration. The network is an artform in Cat5 cable and gaffer tape, the PCs are all ultra-thin (no grotty old CRTs here) and everyone uses mobiles because only a couple of desks have got phones on them. Eight of us have to share a single modem lead because the phone lines that are connected are all digital and not compatible with the, oh, at least 6 month old modems in our laptops. It's a brave new world, albeit one in which brown paper plays a far more important part than I ever dreamed. Mind you, in the way of internet start-ups, there seems to be a change of direction at least every other day. Our new lead architect has just told me to abandon all the sheets of brown paper we spent the last two weeks compiling. He wants to take a completely different route (my guess is, take something off the peg, file off the serial numbers and, lo and behold, an expensive custom solution), so several man-weeks of work is about to hit the shredder. I hope our client has deeper pockets than they've been letting on.