Murray F. took a position as an Highly Paid Consultant at a large firm that had rules for everything. One of the more prescient rules specified that for purposes of budgeting, consultants were only allowed to bill for 8 hours of work per day, no exceptions. The other interesting rule was that only certain employees were allowed to connect to the VPN to work from home; consultants had to physically be in the office.

The project to which Murray was assigned had an international staff of more than 100 developers; about 35 of them were located locally. All of the local development staff were HPCs.

With that much staff, as you would expect, there was a substantial MS Project plan detailing units of work at all levels, and assorted roll-ups into the master time line.

A soccer ref holding up a red card

The managers that had created this plan took all sorts of things into account. For example, if you attended three hours of meetings two days a week, then you only had 34 hours available for work; if you had to leave early one day to pick up your kid, it set those hours aside as non-work, and so on. The level of detail even took into account the time it takes to mentally put down one complex task and pick up another one. It was awful to look at but it was reasonably accurate.

Until...

Weather forecasters are wrong as often as they are right. However, the spiraling pin-wheel of snowstorms was getting bigger and barreling down on the local office, and was so imminent that even the forecasters were issuing absolute warnings. Not "It looks like we might get six inches"; but more along the lines of "Get groceries and plan to be shut in for a while".

The storm hit at night and by first light, anyone who looked out the window immediately realized that the forecasters were right and that they weren't going anywhere. In an attempt to be good team players, the consultants called their managers, pointed out that they were snowed in and unable to travel, and given the special circumstances, could they use the VPN and work from home?

The managers all responded that the rules were very specific and that the consultants could only work from the office. Since the consultants were powerless to do anything about the weather or the mountain of snow that had to be shoveled, they took snow days and no work was done.

That's 35 consultants for 2 days or 70 days of (loaded) work, or about 2 ½ months of work that vaporized. Needless to say, this turned the otherwise green time line quite red.

The managers called a meeting to discuss how to make up the time. Their first suggestion was that the consultants put in more time, to which they responded The rules specify that we cannot bill more than 8 hours each day. The managers then asked the consultants if they would work without pay - to get it done. Wisely, the consultants said that they were required to play by the rules set forth by the company, and could not falsify the billing sheets with the wrong number of hours worked.

The sponsoring agencies of the consultants all agreed on that one (free labor means no commissions on said labor).

This went back and forth for a while until it came time for scheduled demos. Only the work was about ten person-weeks behind schedule and the features to be demo'd had not yet been built.

At this point, the senior people who could not see their expected features in action had no choice but to address the snow delay. After much discussion, they decreed that the budgets had to be adhered to (e.g.: billing was limited to 8 hours per day), but the line development managers could hire additional consultants to make up the missed work. The managers got to work adjusting the master project plan.

The existing consultants pointed out that it would take a substantial amount of time to find new consultants, get computers, set up development environments, do general on-boarding and get new developers up to speed; and that it didn't make sense to hire new developers for something like this.

It was decreed that rules had to be followed, and it didn't matter if it wasn't cost efficient to follow those rules.

So they spent about a month interviewing (new project task for existing senior consultants and managers), bringing new consultants on board (getting them equipment, access, etc. - a new project task for managers) , and giving them architecture and code walk-throughs (new project task for existing senior consultants). This necessitated increasing the expense to the project to cover all the additional overhead.

All to save a few bucks in additional billing by already-trained-and-equipped developers, which would have been completely unnecessary if they had just let them work from home in the first place.

But hey, those were the rules.

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