Why many managers failed…

to understand the power they could have in their hand. Here is a testimony on the Pharo mailing-list. This is why we should build powerful new solutions in Pharo 🙂




I’ve been working as a Consultant for many big corporations (mainly in VA Smalltalk) since 1996. The situation you describe is very well known to me. But in my opinion there is no technical reason for this. It’s a managerial problem. Ever since IBM went out to their customers and told them to move to Java for the better ini the mid-90ies, managers wanted the Smalltalk projects to go away as fast as possible. Nobody asked why IBM was still happily using VisualAge Smalltalk internally at that time frame….

So the Smalltalk projects were declared legacy by Management. Replacement projects were started with big efforts and optimism. Some went well, some somewhat came to fly in a bit more than double the time and much more times the costthan planned, some failed miserably. One thing was in common to the replacement projects all over the place: they took much longer, turned out to be much mor complicated and took a lot more manpower than anybody had ever imagined.

So two important things happened:

1) People were told the old Smalltalk stuff would be gone soon, so if you wanted to be a valued and appreciated staff member, you better stay away from these projects
2) The people who knew the business and technical side of the existing projects were moved to the new projects. Some liked it (because of 1) some were frustrated (because they knew / feared the new project was going to be a death march)

Over the first 2 years or so, nobody realized how bad the situation really was. It was easy to postpone user requirements to the new project, accumulate more and more manpower in the new project and still keep up green flags everywhere.

…until yellow was the new green and users/stakeholders wanted the new features NOW – and not one day when the replacement project would become real.

So the remaining manpower in the old project (not the ones with lots of experience and knowledge) had to extend the old system, integrate it with the new system (thereby implementing all the stuff that IBM once told their management would never be possible in Smalltalk) and keep it up and running year after year. Nobody ever said Thank You or would appreciate the work they did. Because that was old stuff anyways and was already irrelevant.

Some of these old systems still exist today, serving users every single day, while some of the new systems never appeared. No manpower was ever added to these projects, and never would anybody ever say: okay, guys, you won. They still work on legacy code and try to do their best to fulfill user requirements. While on other projects that never see the light of day, people get appreciation, are allowed to work with new technologies and do cool stuff. Nobody ever asked the Smalltalkers whether they could do that as well, because “if you want to do web, you need to do Java”. IBM said so, you know (and many other consultants as well).

So this is why new people try to stay away from these old projects. This is why the remaining staff is frustrated and this is why nobody allows them to do the cool things that Smalltalk can do as well as the others. They are just required to fix bugs, add new features in the old GUIs and else keep silent. Some of them were trying to fight this and tried to prove Smalltalk’s strengths, but back then nobody would listen. One day they gave up.

Management still frustrates people every. single. day.

Just my opinion


One thought on “Why many managers failed…

  1. Carl Gundel says:

    I worked for LingoMotors, a fantastic startup some years ago which had built an amazing AI system that would parse the English language. The whole thing was built using VisualWorks Smalltalk. We had more than a dozen doctorate level computational linguists, several of them famous in their community. The system was amazing, and it leveraged the strengths of Smalltalk in a great way. This was a way to tag information with real metadata about the meaning of the data, and our first customer was a large online bookseller.

    When we needed another round of financing we kept on getting pressure from potential investors who agreed we had something great, but they wanted us to port the whole thing to Java before they would back us. They had no clue that doing this would have killed our competitive edge, and it was hard to secure more funding.

    The choice of implementation technology had become an issue of political correctness, in a sense. A lot of really wonderful programming language products died when the Java juggernaut trampled the world with overhyped promises. Now it seems that Java is over the top of its S curve, and things are more relaxed. It could happen again.

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