“I’m sorry, but we are a big company” – a fragment about scale

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about scale…

Trello blog post backlog

… but I struggle to get it all out as a single coherent narrative…

… so instead I want to tell a short story. It goes like this…

In order to supply my services to a large public organisation, I find my little company as a sub-sub-contractor in a Byzantine procurement framework. Anyone who believes the dogma that the private sector is inherently more efficient than public enterprise need only look at the outsourcing giants that squat in this space for empirical evidence that it is just as often the exact opposite.

A few weeks into my new contract, it becomes clear that the bureaucracy is incapable of paying the correct amount for work done. They ignore my suggestion that their timesheet system is treating half days as whole ones – until months later I get an email out of the blue from an administrator whose sole role in life is to recover erroneous overpayments (Note to managers: if your Exchange server has an email inbox called something like “OverPayments@CrapCorp.com”, that’s a clue that you have a problem with failure demand).

The overpayments administrator and I become allies. We exchange spreadsheets back and forth until we have reconciled all the discrepancies. In a final twist, she reveals that to straighten things out, they have to knowingly overpay my company even more money, which I must then return to them.

And that’s when the overpayments administrator speaks the words that should strike fear into every “C-suite” executive (because let’s face it, executives, if your organisation is big enough to have a “C-suite” then it’s big enough to have this problem).

“I’m sorry about this, but we are a big company.”

And I wonder. When exactly did “big company” stop being a byword for trust and solidity, and become sufficient excuse – no further explanation required – for systematic, terminal ineptitude?

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mattedgar

Product strategy and design leadership in web and mobile media. Before that I was a newspaper journalist and history student

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