What is your firm doing to solve the year 2000 (Y2K) computer software bug? A previous column described its origins and ramifications. Here are some further considerations.
Software engineering need. Corporations and government agencies worldwide are scrambling to hire skilled and motivated people to do the time-consuming, line-by-line review of computer code needed to identify and eliminate Y2K bugs.
The growing shortage of software engineers is creating havoc in the whole technology field. The scramble for trained employees encourages qualified candidates to change employers and/or negotiate larger salaries and benefits. Some organizations even offer large Y2K completion bonuses to retain key people fixing their Y2K problems.
The Y2K problem, which uses scarce software resources, can delay projects that can contribute to new business. As a result, other professionals who are not software engineers might find their time spent inefficiently. Such waste will reduce "bottom line" profits, because resources used to fix this Y2K problem are non-revenue-producing investments.
The brighter side. The Y2K dilemma can provide management with the opportunity and motivation to perceive and operate their organizations as a total system that interacts within a complex business environment.
Rather than simply find and fix Y2K bugs, firms could use this opportunity to upgrade their systems to increase their efficiency and effectiveness. In essence, they could perform systems re-engineering and remove limitations that resulted from past decisions. In addition, firms could expand their knowledge base by using the Y2K analyses and related decisions as they work toward this fixed end date.
Firms anticipating the completion of the Y2K fixes can plan ahead about what to do with their surplus of software engineers. These employees could be directed to develop new products that will give the company an edge against their competition. By identifying and fixing all of its Y2K bugs, a company also gives its marketing department another tool with which it could increase sales.
Use project management tools. Y2K should be managed as a very high-priority project using a project team made up of the firm's best and brightest people. It should have special objectives supported by appropriate plans, schedules, and resources. Everyone should be kept up-to-date about the project's status and urgency.
Working to a fixed end date and to fixed performance objectives that cannot be negotiated is unique. Most projects can usually make tradeoffs between schedule, cost, and performance, but not this one. All Y2K bugs must be identified and eliminated on time. This deadline can create a very stressful situation. Many people are devoting long hours on critical and often boring tasks, such as checking lines of code. The effects of stress will probably hit hardest those workers whose job dies in the year 2000 when the last remaining Y2K bug expires.
Please let us know if your firm has a Y2K problem and what your firm is doing about it.
Ask the Manager
Q: With more and more women entering the engineering, production, and marketing profession and with the increasing trend toward closely integrated cross-functional teams, the opportunities for sexual harassment seem to be increasing. As an engineering manager, I am concerned about what I should be doing in this area to protect the company and my subordinates from costly lawsuits and to maintain a smooth-running effective team. Do you have any suggestions?
A: In the engineering, production, and marketing professions, women have often been treated as "outsiders." Today, most men realize that this is wrong, but old habits are difficult to change. To protect itself and its employees, a company must establish and communicate guidelines for dealing with sexual harassment complaints. Usually, someone is chosen from the human resources department to listen to and investigate any charges before the lawyers are contacted. If the complaint seems legitimate, the company must take immediate action. Depending on the circumstances, such action could range from a discussion between the two parties and the human resources designate to some sort of transfer of one of the parties to a fine, and in exceptional cases, outright firing of the guilty party.
As a manager, make sure you and your subordinates understand the company's guidelines for dealing with sexual harassment, even if this involves a meeting or two to identify and discuss any difficulties with it. Then, don't be reluctant to implement the guidelines. Refer all complaints to the human resources department where experts can deal with it. This action should not be viewed as a sign of weakness, because as a manager you cannot be expected to be an expert in what is usually a very complicated issue.