“Work is about whoever controls the money”

Is it really just that simple? Thinking longer term about how things actually get done at work (a major software/consulting house is where I have my day job), it all comes down to who controls the biggest pots of money.
I suppose that should be obvious – it’s a for-profit company, and anyway money is what makes the world light up (who pays the electric bills!) whether at work or elsewhere. But a conversation today drove home a little bit more about how businesses actually work.
A senior co-worker was mentioning a project idea they had had, that was never explored due to lack of complete funding. They secured half of the money needed to fund, but even with all of their pull due to their position and overall brilliance and reputation, couldn’t find the measly other half of the funding needed. It was an obvious idea, one that was really exciting technically, likely to become something highly useful, etc. etc. And it’s not that the whole organization was low on funds: plenty of other projects found the way forward.
It’s not even that (some of) the right people weren’t contacted. It’s more how the pots of money get allocated, and which people in the pot control lines value what kind of products. It’s just frustrating that sometimes excellent ideas – whether technical or organizational (or I suppose sales/marketing, although I really don’t understand those suits) – can’t get traction just because of organizational structure.
Wow. OK, at this point I’m realizing this point is really boring and obvious to anyone good at managing businesses, and really painful and obvious with anyone who has great technical ideas but doesn’t happen to be brilliant at convincing CEOs to invest in them. I guess the real points in my high tech industry muse are that:

  • It’s frustrating to have great ideas for new stuff, but not have the money to make it happen in big business
  • Communication skills are key for anyone in the high tech industry, unless you happen to be both brilliant and have acolytes who will do your bidding

I suppose that’s some of why I like working in open source so much, especially at the ASF – merit is based primarily on technical skill, and projects grow by developers frying their own fish, and adding useful technical things immaterial of the immediately obvious gain.

2 thoughts on ““Work is about whoever controls the money”

  1. So some off the hip corollaries:

    – Technology focused employees are limited in how far they can ever get in their career without 1) a lot of luck to be in the right startup, or 2) good business communication skills.

    – There are plenty of places it certainly seems like there are people who control money pots who have serious NIMBY issues; even accounting for the fact that you need to tailor your message for their experience and understanding issues.

    The issue is understanding the larger context, so you can understand if the money pot’ers are truly being self-serving, or if they have a bigger perspective you’re not aware of. Or if they’re simply plugged into the ‘network’ so strongly that it doesn’t matter for most of what they may manage or mis-manage, because they can get away with it given the old boy support network.

    Sigh. I really shouldn’t talk about this while I’m sitting on a 2 hour, 20+ person conference call trying to redesign high-level business processes. At least I’m getting some work done duing the call!

  2. Axiom #1:

    Companies need to make money.

    Axiom #2:

    Cash for investments is finite.

    So given these, there is an obvious allocation problem. Great ideas don’t count, profitable ones do. So if you have a great-profitable idea that you want funded, you should need to demonstrate the following:

    -Whats it going to cost
    -whats it going to make and when
    -what are the risks of failing.

    Limiting budgets are a way of forcing mid-level managers to prioritize. i.e. we don’t have the money to do all 10 projects, so lets pick 3 that we think are best.

    so back to your scenario. Presuming the idea would have been profitable (cause then they did the right thing by not funding it) the individual failed to get funding for two reasons. 1) they didn’t present the Costs / Make / Risks in enough detail to make the management feel confident in investing or 2) the managers (rightly or wrongly) thought another project was more valuable.

    Managers who use self-serving criteria for budget allocation are traitors to the organization and should be fired, fast, I mean now-before lunch. They are a cancer and can and do spread if not exorcated from the organization. Once the political connectedness becomes more important then the costs/ profit / risks of an project proposal, the company is disfunctional.

    Obviously, you see the second, you know its wrong, if you can go to senior management and say something you should. If they play this game then all is lost, and you should short the stock.

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