Controllers and Doers

First of all, I've put off writing this for a while since I wanted a term for "controllers" that does not feel pejorative.   I really mean this characteristic in a healthy and natural fashion!

So, it's my belief that the people working in IT fall into two broad categories (with occasional cross-over and hybrids).   Folks generally are either:

Controllers -- These people struggle every day with the overwhelming number of applications, data sets, schemas, projects, and the chaotic interaction between them.  They strive to bring order to the chaos and rationalize how all this crap can work together.  They are fervently backing the enterprise-wide schema rationalization and struggling to get the architecture team to be successful in its attempt to unify many different aspects of the application install base.  Part of this effort is to unify the logging, monitoring, and management of all the applications within the enterprise.  As a first step in that, they support the ongoing project to create an accurate inventory of the various applications within the enterprise.   It is always a work in progress!

Doers -- These folks see an important business imperative that requires application support.  They WANT to work within the framework advocated by the Controllers but it seems very challenging to meet their business constraints while dealing with all the overhead (and apparent confusion) of doing things compliant with the Controllers' constraints.  Sometimes, they comply.  Other times, they say "Screw It" and just do their application changes the way they want to do them.

So, this dichotomy seems stable just like the American Two-Party System of Politics seems to be stable.  The Democrats and Republicans always seem to squabble and that clarifies the argument.  Over time, the center viewpoint migrates (and American political views are surprisingly homogeneous -- just ask any non-American).  The existence of the debate (and the tension it causes) drives the system towards a new balance over time.  Similarly, the Controllers and the Doers move the center of gravity for the IT organization -- in both its centralized capacity and its per-department capacity.  The proclivity of the Controllers adds some small sense of consistency (which is of tremendous value) while the business demands of the Doers keeps a spark under the IT organization's butt.

Some observations:

  • When I was a kid, the Controllers had great big mainframes and multi-year waiting lists for application development.   The Doers bought mini-computers using their departmental budget and really annoyed the Controllers.
  • Later, the Controllers were using minicomputers (usually running Unix) and the Doers were building PC applications!   Some of these were even built in Excel and met the business needs just fine (even if the data wasn't properly "Controlled" which did pose challenges).
  • Now, the PC is "The Man" and has moved into the mainstream of the world of the Controller.   The Doers are using lots of different tools including mash-ups!

So, when I look around Microsoft and other vendors, I always ask myself  "Is this product for the Controllers or for the Doers?"  Different divisions and groups within the various vendors build stuff targeting the two constituencies.   Neither is wrong and neither is right.   The tension and the balance seems to be stable while the manifestations of each groups efforts evolves forward relentlessly.   What a hoot!

- Pat