Of Cats and Unwanted Prizes

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I have three cats. Cats being the creatures that they are, I have only to sit down to read a book and instantly there is a cat on my lap. Regardless of which cat it is, a familiar pattern ensues: first, the cat carefully positions itself in front of my book. Once I adjust to move the book, the cat then carefully positions itself on one of my hands. This continues until I give the cat the attention it’s seeking. At that point, it first butts its head against me and then, purring loudly, turns and sticks its behind in my face.

I am sure that there are people who find this end of a cat absolutely fascinating. I’m even quite sure that there are contests in which cats win awards for having the most beautiful behind. For cat breeders and cat fanciers, it can be a big deal to win one of these cat trophies. It is a cause for great celebration.

In an office environment, however, a catastrophe is anything but a cause for celebration.

The worst thing about catastrophes is that they happen about as often as a cat sitting down on top of the book you’re reading. At least, to listen to some managers, it certainly sounds that way. Somehow, every little thing, every small problem, was magnified until it had the aura of impending doom. In short, every setback was becoming a prize for the cat with the most beautiful behind. At one company, the conversation went something like this:

“We’ve found a major bug in the software.”

“We can’t delay the ship.”

“We can’t ship with this bug.”

At that point, the manager started screaming that the product would go out on schedule, or else. When he finally calmed down and I was able to talk with him privately, he told me that he knew that if the company didn’t ship on time, the customers would abandon them and they would go out of business. He was happy to ship non-functional software to avoid that fate.

When he calmed down still further, he agreed to delay the ship.

I am sure that most readers are chuckling to themselves right now. After all, delays in software are legendary. Obviously, this manager was overreacting. True enough; the question is, why? Why would a perfectly sensible, intelligent man react so negatively to something that is, frankly, a common event in the software business?

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