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[OT]: Putt's Law and how to climb the information technology hierarchy ladder?

by lin0 (Curate)
on Dec 21, 2006 at 21:43 UTC ( #591202=perlmeditation: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??

Greetings Fellow Monks

I recently read the book Putt's Law and the Successful Technocrat: How to Win in the Information Age. This is a concise work (181 pages) in which Archibalt Putt introduces guidelines for advancing in the technological hierarchy of modern organizations. The book is both entertaining and right on target when describing common business interactions in technological hierarchies. I decided to write this Meditation, to present some of the Laws that caught my attention and to ask:

  • how many of you have read the book?
  • which “assertions” caught your attention?
  • and has the book made you change the way you approach your interactions at work?

If you have not read the book (or even if you have) and want to share your opinions about the laws below, please feel free to do so.

  • Putt's Law: “technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage and those who manage what they do not understand”
    • This Law has many implications, one of them is that to successfully manage a technological project there is no need to know all the details of the technology. Have you ever felt that people in management do not fully understand what you are doing?
  • First Law of Advice: “the correct advice given is the advice that is desired”
  • Second Law of Advice: “the desired advice is revealed by the structure of the organization, not by the structure of the technology”
  • Third Law of Advice: “Simple advice is the best advice”
    • The Laws of Advice are illustrated with the example of an Oil Company that discovered a major oil reservoir. The extracted oil could be economically refined into gasoline. The only problem was that the resulting gasoline had a greenish color. The two options that were proposed to the Company's Vice President were: establishing a costly research program to study the chemical composition of the gasoline or upgrading the refineries trying to solve the problem. The Vice President decided to ask for advice from an external consultant. After several weeks of work, the consultant offered the following advice: “Advertise the color”. Such a simple solution was exactly what the Vice President was looking for. Have you found any situation in which following the Laws of Advice are (or are not) applicable?
  • Consultant's Law: “The value to a consultant of each discussion is proportional to the information he receives, independent of any information he may give in return,”
  • Corollary to the Consultant's Law: “A successful consultant never gives as much information to his clients as he gets in return.”
    • As I see it, this Law implies that a consultant should gather as much information as possible on the problem at hand before giving any advice. The Law also implies that the information gathered is gold for the consultant. Do you agree? Any comments on that?
  • Fourth Law of Decision Making: “Technical analyses have no value above the midmanagement level
    • As an Engineer, this is shocking to me. But having talked with an expert in marketing , it seems that Putt might be right. What are your thoughts on that

There are many more Laws (36) and some corollaries (8), rules (5), and guidelines (3) but I decided to leave them out in case you decide to read the book which I recommend if you are looking for a career in a technology-driven organization.

I am eagerly waiting for your comments

Cheers,

lin0

Disclaimer: portions of this meditations are inspired by a review I did on the book for an IEEE Journal

Comment on [OT]: Putt's Law and how to climb the information technology hierarchy ladder?
Re: [OT]: Putt's Law and how to climb the information technology hierarchy ladder?
by madbombX (Hermit) on Dec 22, 2006 at 02:37 UTC
    Since a lot of these ideas could send some people off on long rants (like me), I will do my best to keep it short and on the most interesting point (to me anyway).

    The first law of advice "the correct advice given is the advice that is desired" is not something I necessarily agree with. Let me provide an example:

    Suppose the consultant came back to the vice president saying, "spend money to do the research." That research then ended up costing $X. Now the VP has paid the consultant and paid the cost of researching the issue. If the research showed the gas was unusable, then the simplest answer offered by the consultant would have been correct. What if they advertised the color and the gas was unusable because no research was done?
    I understand that there can be a lot of what ifs, but I have generally found that advice (even from the POV of a consultant) should contain at least 1 other course of action (COA) when possible. The advice only ends up being desired if it works. If the gasoline was advertised and it was unusable, then the desired advice would have been to research. It just so happened that in this particular situation that it works out.

    Having been in the military for a good number of years now and been in advising positions and positions that requred advising, I will comment on law three as well. Simple advice is always the best as long as its not oversimplified to the point of changing the meaning. Clear and concise is better phrased (IMHO) than simple in this case.

    I could go on forever with these, but I will just say one last thing on advice. We all know the universal law on assumptions (When you ASSUME, you make an ASS out of U and ME). That being said, I think it is also extremely important to note that, generally speaking, the "simpler" the advice, the more assumptions need to be made. This can be very dangerous in certain situations. Clear, concise, and thought through advice (with the proper questions answered and not assumed) is the best advice.

    That's just my 2 cents.

Re: [OT]: Putt's Law and how to climb the information technology hierarchy ladder?
by sanPerl (Friar) on Dec 22, 2006 at 08:32 UTC
    >>Fourth Law of Decision Making: “Technical analyses have no value above the midmanagement level
    Although I am unhappy with this law. I am experiencing it. If you want to grow in Managerial cadre then you Need 'Human-Management' raher than 'Technoogy management'.
      I LOVE it; your accidental word "Technoogy"; I visualise it as tech giving someone a noogie.

      thanks!
Re: [OT]: Putt's Law and how to climb the information technology hierarchy ladder?
by zentara (Archbishop) on Dec 22, 2006 at 12:29 UTC
    Don't forget the 45th Law of Survival :

    Suck as much money as you can out of government contracts


    I'm not really a human, but I play one on earth. Cogito ergo sum a bum
Re: [OT]: Putt's Law and how to climb the information technology hierarchy ladder?
by robot_tourist (Hermit) on Dec 22, 2006 at 14:00 UTC

    Fourth Law of Decision Making: “Technical analyses have no value above the midmanagement level As an Engineer, this is shocking to me. But having talked with an expert in marketing , it seems that Putt might be right. What are your thoughts on that?

    To me I think most senior managers see no value in technical analyses. In fact the senior managers may be right to a degree.

    Just as good system design should hide how the lower levels really work, good management should hide how the lower downs really work. I mean, unless I had a senior manager who had a lot of programming experience I'd probably be rather miffed if he or she questioned my code all the time, unless my code was bad and broke stuff.

    Both a completely laissez faire attitude and micromanagement from above are wrong, but a little balance should yield a lot of success.

    However, if a technical analysis has monetary value attached/embedded, I would say senior management would care a lot more. e.g. If I as a developer saw a big mess of code that I had to support, and thought, 'man, I need to clean this up, but it's going to take some time away from another project' even my one-above manager should tell me not to clean it up unless the cost saving is significantly more than the money to be made/saved from the other project.

    How can you feel when you're made of steel? I am made of steel. I am the Robot Tourist.
    Robot Tourist, by Ten Benson

Re: [OT]: Putt's Law and how to climb the information technology hierarchy ladder?
by BrowserUk (Pope) on Dec 22, 2006 at 16:36 UTC

    Many of the laws you cite seem to be holdovers from the late '80s and '90s. (Who remembers Michael Douglas in Wall Street; and "Greed is good"?). Many of them seem to be aimed at 'succeeding' regardless of merit, rather than succeeding because of it.

    I think this is one of (many) things that very much depends upon the environment in which you work. And that can depend upon the type of commercial entity you work for; the cultural norms of the country or people in charge; and much else besides. Having worked in several countries and for companies from different cultural areas (US -v- EU -v- UK -v- The Orient), I've found that some cultures just "want the job done, don't bore me with the details"; whilst other cultures want to be very much in on all the details.

    For example, my (brief) experience of working for a Japanese company was that suppressing technical information in reports to upper management could be viewed as 'lying by omission', whereas including them in a report for US Managers was seen as "waffling". Conversely, when things went wrong in a US company, the immediate priority seemed to be "who's to blame", but in the Japanese company "what went wrong and how do we fix it".

    Generalisations both I admit, but just an example.

    There also seems to be a correlation between the size of the company and the management level to which technical details are seen as important. In general, the larger the company, the sooner the details get lost in the mire of interdepartmental protectionism.

    The toughest decision I ever made was to contradict another consultant, from the same company I was representing, in a meeting in front of the customer. It did not go down well with the other consultant, but I was told that my intervention had saved the contract.

    Sometimes, in some places, the technical details at the back of a report, and the honesty and accuracy of those details, is more important than the glossy cover and a flowery management summary.

    Were it, that that were true more often.


    Examine what is said, not who speaks -- Silence betokens consent -- Love the truth but pardon error.
    Lingua non convalesco, consenesco et abolesco. -- Rule 1 has a caveat! -- Who broke the cabal?
    "Science is about questioning the status quo. Questioning authority".
    In the absence of evidence, opinion is indistinguishable from prejudice.
Re: [OT]: Putt's Law and how to climb the information technology hierarchy ladder?
by webfiend (Vicar) on Dec 22, 2006 at 21:43 UTC

    Upmodded for giving me lots to chew on :)

    I have not read the book, so take this rant with as much salt as you like. Anyways, here goes:

    Putt's Law: “technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage and those who manage what they do not understand”

    I had trouble reading past this, because of another similar law:

    The world is divided into two types of people: those who divide the world into two types of people, and those who do not.

    I can tell already that I'm going to have trouble with this guy. But sure, I can see that in a social hierarchy, the higher up your position is the more your knowledge is about the dynamics of the organization itself rather than the details of implementing the organization's goals. Still, a good leader or manager should maintain some awareness of what's going on in the trenches in order to make good executive decisions. They don't have to know every little detail, but it seems unwise to consider your employees as a single black box that magically produces goods and services.

    First Law of Advice: “the correct advice given is the advice that is desired”

    Does this guy think he's a Zen master or something? Does this mean that it is desired to give the correct advice, or correct to give the desired advice? A cynical person could read this as "If you have multiple choices for an answer to give, you should choose the one they want to hear, regardless of its actual correctness." Oy. My head hurts when I try to parse this First Law of Advice.

    Second Law of Advice: “the desired advice is revealed by the structure of the organization, not by the structure of the technology”

    Uh oh. This is starting to sound like Putt is leaning towards the cynical interpretation of the First Law. Wait, maybe he's just saying that you should pay attention to what the organization is already doing and frame your answer in those terms. If the local elementary school asks me what they can do to help the environment, I probably shouldn't tell them to limit industrial consumption of nonrenewable resources. A school recycling program might be easier for their organization to manage. Or maybe not. Kids can do some freaky things when they put their minds to it.

    Third Law of Advice: “Simple advice is the best advice”

    Hey, something I agree with! Simple as possible, but no simpler, right?

    Consultant's Law: “The value to a consultant of each discussion is proportional to the information he receives, independent of any information he may give in return,”

    Not going to argue with this one, except to say that it applies to every participant in the discussion, not just consultants.

    Corollary to the Consultant's Law: “A successful consultant never gives as much information to his clients as he gets in return.”

    My increasingly cynical take on this is that the most successful consultant (or other participant, as noted above) is the one who gets information while contributing absolutely nothing to a discussion. The trouble is this: if everybody held to this concept of never getting more than you get out of a discussion, then meetings would become these horrendous time sinks where nobody discusses anything of value whatsoever.

    So obviously Putt's Corollary is almost universally followed in business.

    Fourth Law of Decision Making: “Technical analyses have no value above the midmanagement level

    Doesn't it depend on the impact of the analysis? Sure, a relatively minor tehnical change which doesn't affect the "black box" production of goods and services may not need to trouble the pretty little minds of the executives who are obviously too busy getting the answers they want to hear and attending meetings where nobody contributes anything, but an active executive should muster up a casual interest if somebody has just presented an analysis of how much more productive the company would be if they outsourced all the labor to fuzzy kittens in the Third World. Obviously, the presenter of that particular analysis is insane and off his meds, but still.

    Putt may be right, but the insular, hierarchy-driven, and probably incompetent organization described by these laws is not a place where I want to work. Maybe I'm in an excessively critical mood today, and Putt's own interpretations of his laws are much more benign than what I saw. I should see if my library has a copy of this book.

Re: [OT]: Putt's Law and how to climb the information technology hierarchy ladder?
by lin0 (Curate) on Dec 23, 2006 at 14:21 UTC

    Thank you everyone for the comments.

    I personally do not agree with many of Putt's statements. However, I decided to leave my opinions out on the OP to avoid any bias in the comments.

    Regarding BrowserUk comment:

    Many of the law's you cite seem to be holdovers from the late '80s and '90s. (Who remembers Michael Douglas in Wall Street; and "Greed is good"?). Many of them seem to be aimed at 'succeeding' regardless of merit, rather than succeeding because of it.

    BrowserUk is right on target! Putt's books explains how to go up in the hierarchy regardless of the technical merits one could have. Moreover, the original book was released in 1981. The version I commented on was updated to reflect technological advances driven by the Internet. Here I should also say that the book is written in an entertaining and many times cynical language. So, I guess that every person would have a different reaction to the book

    Regarding madbombX comment:

    Clear, concise, and thought through advice (with the proper questions answered and not assumed) is the best advice.

    I fully agree with it and I will try to put it in practice all the time!

    Regarding sanPerl comment:

    If you want to grow in Managerial cadre then you Need 'Human-Management'

    This is true. However, I'd wish that Human management and technology management were hand in hand

    poqui ++ for the comment:

    I LOVE it; your accidental word "Technoogy"; I visualise it as tech giving someone a noogie.

    It made me laugh! :-)

    Regarding robot_tourist comment:

    Both a completely laissez faire attitude and micromanagement from above are wrong, but a little balance should yield a lot of success.

    I guess that if more companies follow this advice, we would have more successful companies

    webfiend++ especially for the comment related to the giving Advice:

    [As] Simple as possible, but no simpler

    Finally, I am waiting for zentara to point us the 44 laws that come before the “45th Law of Survival” ;-)

    Cheers!

    lin0
Re: [OT]: Putt's Law and how to climb the information technology hierarchy ladder?
by ww (Bishop) on Dec 23, 2006 at 15:15 UTC
    When I first read the OP, I viewed Putt's reported thesis (apparently mistakenly and out of ignorance) as satircal. Yet only zentara's response seems to have shared that view.

    So, a <rant> of my own:

    IMO ("H" deliberately omitted), "managing" in a field one does not understand leaves the manager and the enterprise at the mercy of the misguided, whether above or below.

    </rant>

    Yeah, I know: short rant!

    So let me throw in a corollary: Those whose proposals/projects/coding break new ground (at least within their Putt-style organization) can only hope to succeed where they are extraordinarily clear and concise about the (monetary) benefits to that organization.

Re: [OT]: Putt's Law and how to climb the information technology hierarchy ladder?
by gloryhack (Deacon) on Dec 24, 2006 at 22:29 UTC
    I've not read the book, and if "Putt's Law" is the fundamental principle upon which it's based, I'm disinclined to waste my time with it. I get the sense that the book isn't targeted at dinosaurs like me anyway. That said, a few points do, I think, deserve address:

    Technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage and those who manage what they do not understand.

    I suppose a snappy generalization will sell a book, but for the individual navigating a specific and concrete microcosm of the industry it's dangerous to rely upon that "law". Individuals can and do change hats as their careers progress, and sometimes engineers earn business degrees in order to advance.

    The value to a consultant of each discussion is proportional to the information he receives, independent of any information he may give in return

    Because information is my stock in trade, nothing is independent of the value of the information I provide to another in the course of conducting my business.

    I measure the value of a discussion in dollars, not intangible information credits. I consider not only the time I invest in a given exchange, but also how that exchange impacts current and future profits. If a discussion and its present and future impact profit me more than my cost of participation, there is some profit to it, and if it profits me at or above my usual and customary rate for the time I've invested and the information I have provided, then it was sufficiently profitable.

    A successful consultant never gives as much information to his clients as he gets in return.

    Absolutely true, given that the objective criterion is "successful" and that the measure of the information is qualitative rather than quantitative. My best interests are served by keeping my clients happily dependent upon the services I provide and the knowledge whose product I provide to them. It is only in my best interests to refine my client's understanding of the problem domain if I must do so in order to justify my proposals. However, I am as free with low value information as the diner on the corner is with free refills of coffee, and for the same reason.

    Of course a consultant gathers as much information as possible before offering a solution: Premature articulation is unprofessional and more likely than not to get you into trouble.

    The second implication, well, kinda sorta but not really. A lot of the information clients throw at you is quartz, a mineral that often occurs in proximity with gold but of no significant value by itself.

    Technical analyses have no value above the midmanagement level.

    The folks on Mahogany Row don't have any need to know the policies and procedures that result in their mail arriving promptly each day, but somewhere down the corporate food chain is someone who regularly reviews and revises those policies and procedures, and below that is someone who spends his day as a supervisor ensuring compliance with them, and below that is the guy who knows that this specific piece of mail must go into that tote on its way to somewhere else.

    The technical analysis is important only to the folks within the organizational unit(s) responsible for the qualities of the object analyzed.

Re: [OT]: Putt's Law and how to climb the information technology hierarchy ladder?
by rodion (Chaplain) on Dec 27, 2006 at 13:13 UTC
    I don't see the law as covering new ground, but restating the common division of labor in a curmudgeonly and humorous way. Doing so gets people to pay attention, and buy some books. That's all worthwhile, but not new. Here's a few restatements of the law, to illustrate:
    • There are those that manage technical systems, and those that manage people systems. There are few who do both at the same time. (And it often works badly when they do.)
    • Technical staff should guide the technology towards the goals of the section and the goals of the company. Management staff should listen to and trust the technical staff, not second guess it.
    • Management identifies the technical challenges worth meeting. Technical staff meet those challenges.

    These less cynical statements are also less likely to get passed around, and thus less likely to have any effect.

    Similary, "the correct advice given is the advice that is desired", is another way of saying "solve the non-technical problem that management needs solved". Both are good advice, in that they shift attention from whether the problem is the right problem or the best problem, and point attention back to the job of solving the problem. Management may be brilliant, or borderline incompetent, but there is not a whole lot one can do about that from the technical side.

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