A fable about technology consulting
Note: any resemblance to projects past or present or dead is purely coincidental
Once upon a time there was a wealthy King that lived in a giant glass palace.
Life in the palace was generally good and there was a buzz of excitement about the place. The King’s only daughter was getting married to a noble prince and the wedding day was fast approaching.
But the King’s vizier had noticed a problem.
The last time they had a big party in the great hall, the toilets had overflowed, which had kind of ruined the vibe. So the Grand Vizier ordered that a vast new sanitary facility be built immediately to handle the expected influx of guests, and the resulting outflow of excrement.
In order to get the job done right, the Grand Vizier gathered a team of important nobles to lead the project and set them to work. The wedding was in just three months, so the Grand Vizier was very happy when the nobles returned after just one month and announced “We’ve done it!”.
“Excellent! You’ve built it?”
“Ah… not quite… but we know exactly what we’re going to build!” declared the lead noble.
And with that, the nobles produced a painting — for they had commissioned a painter to render their vision onto a canvas and make it real. The new privy was a wonder to behold. It had a bench of gold plated seats that was forty feet long and would accommodate many simultaneous behinds. It had a trough of silver and running water and little towels to wipe your hands on when you were done.
The Grand Vizier was happy but also a little worried.
“Looks great,” he said, “but who’s going to build it?”
“Don’t worry about,” the noble said, “there’s some guys that work in the kitchen who can do it.”
“Have they done this before?”
“No — but they are very smart and hard working,” said the nobles.
And the Grand Vizier was relieved.
But his relief didn’t last. After another month when he had heard nothing he called the nobles together again and asked how the project was going. The nobles told him that everything was progressing satisfactorily and his new facilities would be ready in time for the wedding. Suspicious of flattery, the Grand Vizier asked to be shown the progress. Reluctantly the nobles took him down to view the new water closet.
It didn’t look much like the painting — the benches were rough and looked like they would give you splinters, and there was no trough and no towels, but it was undeniably a privy.
“Does it work?” asked the Vizier hopefully.
“Not yet,” replied the nobles, “but it will, very soon now.”
The Grand Vizier nodded and scratched his chin thoughtfully, “Where does the shit go?” he asked.
The nobles looked at each other, stricken, “We don’t know,” they admitted guiltily. So the Grand Vizier and the nobles followed the pipes that had been built to the next room where they discovered a forty-four gallon drum, already overflowing with human excrement.
“Jesus Christ!” said the Grand Vizier, “that’s never going to work!”
“Don’t worry,” said the nobles, in a panic, “we’ll fix it.”
“You better bloody do so, or your necks will be on the block!”
So the nobles scurried around and assembled a great workforce to help out. They recruited the court jester, four stablehands, a carpenter, three chambermaids and four soldiers who were supposed to be guarding the front gate. They also picked up a plumber along the way.
The nobles assembled the team in the privy room and shouted enthusiastic slogans at them like “BE SELF ORGANISING!!!” and “WE EMPOWER YOU!” and “VARIABLE SCOPE, FIXED TIME!”. Then the nobles retired to another corner of the castle to congratulate themselves and deal with a potential palace coup that would have meant some of them losing some of their power.
For the first week the chambermaids and the soldiers and the stablehands milled around moving buckets and joining pipes to things and scratching their heads and trying to look busy. At the end of the week the lone plumber on the job resigned himself to fate, stood up from the crate in the corner where he’d been reading a newspaper and rolled up his sleeves.
He marshalled the carpenter, and the chambermaids and the soldiers and got people carrying buckets in roughly the right direction and moving things around to kind of where they should be. He even got the jester to stand in the corner and tell silly jokes instead of emptying buckets of excrement over people’s heads, which he had found quite funny, but they had not.
After two weeks of frantic toil with the team working in continuous shifts around-the-clock, the plumber felt like he had made some progress and called the nobles back.
The nobles came into the privy room and stared at the contraption before them. The single fourty-four gallon drum had been replaced with a series of sixteen drums of varying capacity, each linked by a single pipe that varied in size and shape as the team were forced to use whatever came to hand. It certainly looked impressive, in a complex, Heath Robinson kind of way.
The nobles stared at each other with a vague sense of unease, knowing that something was not right but they were unable to put their finger on it.
“But will it work?” they asked the plumber.
The old plumber shrugged and turned his palms up.
“But you’re a plumber?”
“‘I’m a roof plumber.”
“But still a plumber? Isn’t it all the same… ahh…. liquid… moving around?” asked one particularly bright noble.
The plumber looked at him for a long second, “Only if someone takes a shit on your roof.”
The nobles moved to a corner of the room and held a nervous conversation in excited whispers.
“We can’t stuff up this time,” one said, “you heard what the Grand Vizier said. He’ll chop our balls off.”
“That’ll be your balls then,” said a Duchess dryly.
“It wasn’t my decision,” said the first noble, “I’m not responsible.”
“Well, I’m not either,” said a second.
“We could always blame the plumber?” said a third hopefully. And they all peered over their shoulders at the plumber who had gone back to reading his newspaper, because he knew exactly what they were talking about.
“I’m not sure that will cut it,” said one of the older nobles. “The Grand Vizier is kind of sharp. I don’t think he’s going to fall for that on this occasion.”
“Well what can we do?” cried one of the nobles, “We’ve tried everything. We painted a picture, we assembled a team, we even tried shouting, what’s left?”
“Well,” said the plumber, from behind his newspaper, “you could get some help.”
There was silence from the nobles, and then the older wiser one spoke up, “Help? From who pray tell?”
“There’s a guild of sanitary plumbers down in the town,” said the old plumber. “They’re pretty good I hear.”
The nobles looked at each other.
“That’s a pretty good idea,” said one.
“Yeah. It just might work,” said another.
“And if it doesn’t,” said a third, “we can always blame them right? After all we’re not experts in errr….. sanctuary plumbing.”
The old plumber rolled his eyes behind his newspaper and said nothing.
The wise old noble sent a page to summon a representative of the guild of plumbers that very day and met them in the privy room.
The senior sanitary plumber gazed around at the jury rigged pipes and barrels with a passive expression and glanced at the old roof plumber, “It seems like you’ve got a bit of a problem here.”
The old roof plumber shrugged and looked at a random point on the roof between two joists.
“That’s right,” said the wise noble, taking charge. “Can you help us?”
The senior sanitary plumber frowned and scratched his chin, “Sure.”
The noble, who didn’t like his expression, or his lack of fawning servility, asked “How much will it cost?”
The sanitary plumber looked the noble in the eye and said, “100 gold florins.”
“Preposterous! Outrageous! Highway robbery!”
The sanitary plumber just shrugged and turned for the door.
“Wait a moment,” ordered the old noble, “I demand you do it for 50 florins. I won’t accept anything else.”
The sanitary plumber shook his head slowly, “Fifty florins won’t get it done in time. If you called us at the start, maybe. But to get it done in a week, I’ll need a team of four, some specialised equipment and a master plumber to fix all this.”
“I know,” said the noble, seizing the opportunity, “just give us the four plumbers. Skip the specialised equipment and the master plumber — we don’t need them. We have an expert here who can lead the team…” and the noble looked around for the old roof plumber, who had mysteriously vanished.
Since he wasn’t available, the noble reached out and grabbed the nearest warm body which happened to be the court jester.
The senior sanitary plumber took a long look at the jester, his cockscomb and stick with a fools head and bells and sighed. “Well … I wouldn’t recommend it,” he said reluctantly, “but you are the customer.”
“That’s right!” the noble said eagerly, “and just you remember it.”
And with that, the old noble strode out of the room to go and tell the Grand Vizier that everything was under control.
The senior sanitary plumber looked at the fool, who was feeling not very jolly any more. The fool giggled and waved his stick with bells on it that jingled quietly in the dark room.
The senior sanitary plumber sighed again and went to give his men the good news.