back to article Pitchforks, torches, and awful quotes – we read what Cisco's CEO said

Cisco's new CEO Chuck Robbins has caused a lot of introspection with me. This week he said a number of things that frighten and confuse me. Let's start with the quote. This thing ricocheted around Twitter, caused a minor stir in the article comments, and was generally responsible for nerdly mirth and merriment for the length …

  1. moiety

    "If someone says they need 30 days to complete a project, I'll say they've got three weeks. They say 18 months, I say nine. I dunno why – it just feels good."

    ...thus immediately and in one sentence stressing everybody involved in the project for no gain but brief "good feel" for himself. Also, second time round, everybody is automatically going to double the projected duration of their projects just on general principles.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      I thought that was "normal" for projected time anyway. You know you can do something in say, 4 weeks. You factor in Murphy and assorted reviewers... ah.. for lack of better words... gold-plating and idiocy. You end up doubling the time. If only takes 7 weeks, you're now a hero of the moment. If it goes over, everyone is ok with that. With the 'cut the time because it feels good' manglement, one needs to pad it a bit more.

      1. dcluley

        That way lies madness. In a similar parallel situation my late wife used to wonder why her GP looked at her a bit strangely when answering the question of how much alcohol she drank. Only later did she find out that GPs automatically assume that people halve the amount before answering that question and therefore they double it when hearing the answer.

        Similarly setting unrealistic targets can result in people fiddling the figures until the whole thing collapses and eventually proper changes have to be made. The current hoo-hah about diesel engines is as good a current example as any. Banks selling useless insurance is another example. Eventually it all gets found out and the short term gains are overwhelmed by the long term losses.

    2. Shadow Systems Silver badge

      Artificial Time Constraints are bad.

      If your Dev Team tells you it will take $N amount of time to properly code up what it is you want them to create, to bug check it, make sure there's as few security holes as possible, & validate that it works as it's supposed to under as many different scenarios as possible, Manglement artificially cutting that back to $N-1 means something doesn't get done to meet that deadline.

      If it's UI development then you end up with Windows 8. If it's browser back end code viability then you wind up with Internet Explorer version 6. If it's security patches not getting applied before it ships, you're left with default Admin accounts called "Admin" with hard coded passwords of "Password". If it's the operations checking under various scenarios, you're left with functions that work properly ONLY when/if the user ALWAYS does it properly, but fails spectacularly if they don't. The farther back you cut back that artificial deadline, the worse that ends up going out the door because you've forced too many corners cut, too many process' abandoned entirely or given short shrift, all because there wasn't time to Do It Right.

      Eventually you're left with the coding reputation of Adobe's Flash Player: it's out there, everyone "has" to use it (because everyone else does), but it's such a security & IT nightmare that IT Pro's the world over tell everyone that will listen to uninstal it rather than keep jumping through the hoops to try & keep it patched.

      <Sarcasm>What's that? ANOTHER gazillion "Critical" level flaws you've had to release as an out of band set of updates? Didn't you JUST do that last week? Tell me again whom to blame for this Fuster Cluck?</Sarcasm>

      If you want your reputation to not be equated with the likes of Adobe, Microsoft, & Cisco, then Do It Right The First Time. Patch it afterwards if you find something that needs it, but do the job right the first time & there won't BE as many holes to plug afterwards.

      But what the hell do *I* know, I'm just a Blind Guy whom can see what's wrong with telling the Dev Team they only have half the time they need to Do It Right.

      Bah.

      1. moiety

        Re: Artificial Time Constraints are bad.

        With the examples above it's just about possible that the 30-day project might be deliverable in 21 days; because that's about the safety margin you'd build in. Of course, you'd be losing your safety margin which makes it more likely for things to go wrong. Likely outcome: Project delivered late.

        If someone tells you it's going to need 18 months; then saying "You have nine months" is semantically equal to "Can you deliver me an expensive catastrophe please"

        1. BillG Silver badge
          Coffee/keyboard

          Re: Artificial Time Constraints are bad.

          This article really seems to ramble and in many cases has no firm footing in reality.

          It's important to remember that CEOs do not make technology statements. When a CEO makes a public statement, they are talking to stock and industry analysts, period.

          As Technologists we may not appreciate what Robbins said, but he is telling Wall Street he wants to get things done faster which is what the street wants to hear.

          Since Robbin's speech, CISCO's stock has shot up 10% so his speech was successful. Analyzing what Robbins said in technical detail is a complete waste of time.

          1. Mark 85 Silver badge

            Re: Artificial Time Constraints are bad.

            But he's also screwing up the budgeting and design and build process. What he's saying is that his scheduling "changes' are random. If' this week it's "do a 12 month project in 6 months", next week he say "do it 7" or "do it in 5" because it "feels good". Sorry that's not a valid way of planning and execution. It might please Wall Street, but in a year or so when projects fail to work or are chock full of errors and patches and the buyers are wary and look somewhere else, the stock will fall hard.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Artificial Time Constraints are bad.

        So you get your code to be as correct/bug proof/etc as possible.

        Then...?

        Real life intervenes.

        Bugs in other systems make your bit of the puzzle work (or rather not work) in ways that no one could have reasonably expected. Back to the coding and fix them. Time estimates? They turn into Guestimates.

        There is no such thing as totally bug free software once you get beyond a certain level of complexity.

        40+ years writing software for a living has taught me that.

      3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Artificial Time Constraints are bad.

        @Shadow Systems

        I agree with what you're saying but I'm not sure all your examples are appropriate. One or two might have delivered exactly what manglement demanded.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The Party on the Left, is now the Party on the Right

      In the US, for example, the Radical Right (usually hand-waved away as "the Tea Party")

      No, you don't understand U.S. politics, these are two completely different, very very different things. You need to do some research and correct your article.

      But let's try something. Let's make some modifications (in bold) to what Trevor and Josh wrote and see how this reads:

      In the US, for example, the Radical left (usually hand-waved away as "the Progressives") gets under my skin quite easily. They are the extremist left wing, powered by emotion and only resorting to evidence or logic as a means of justifying positions they feel are right. Emotion is the impetus and driver of behavior and everything else exists to justify, validate, promote, and enforce the emotion.

      How's that read?

      The USA has two parties: One wants huge deficits and high taxes, the other wants huge deficits and low taxes. Anybody who insists "one party all good, other party all bad" is just a tool. As a political consultant we used to call those on both sides "yousits", short for "useful idiots".

      Or I like comedian Lewis Blacks interpretation - the US is composted of the Reps, the party of bad ideas, and the Dems, the party of no ideas. Typified by a Repub will stand up in Congress and say "I've got a really bad idea!" and a Democrats will stand up and say, "And I can make his idea shittier !!!'

      However, I can understand The Reg's bias. Statistically speaking, those on the extreme left are more likely to click on online advertisements, while the extreme right is more likely to respond to a TV commercial.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't hold your breath, but …

    I'm working with a bunch of smart graduate students doing Software Defined Networking things. For them, the Cisco Way is irrelevant, if not plain weird. And it's not just us: it's the same at universities around the world. It'll take a while, but these people will move on into industry, buy a bunch of white boxes, implement what they've learned — and condemn Cisco to a rent-collecting backwater.

    1. Frederic Bloggs

      Re: Don't hold your breath, but …

      Not just students, but clueful techy SMEs as well. A customer of mine has identified that his shiney new internet line, that is at least three times as fast as his old one, is going to overwhelm his existing Cisco border router. The only choice is either to go up to the next range (entry price £5000+) or buy a chunky white box with eight NICs and do the routing & firewalling himself. He has the knowledge to do it either way. His white box would cost about quarter of the price...

  3. GrumpenKraut Silver badge

    Two authors and "I/me" in the article.

    Am I an even sloppier reader than I thought? Could someone explain this mystery?

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: Two authors and "I/me" in the article.

      Mystery is: wrong item picked from dropdown menu. Sorted, and thankee.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No, no, no - Management 101 guys. You don't impose a deadline, you point out the problems caused by the developer's estimate (e.g. "I cant get that past the board, they'll probably can the project and demand we cut our headcount"), then wait from them to come back with a shorter time span + lots of caveats. Now when they miss the revised deadline its their fault, not yours !

    I recommend Going Postal by T Pratchett as a useful introduction to the inner workings of senior management and high-level finance.

  5. malle-herbert Silver badge
    Trollface

    On time, On budget, Working...

    Pick two...

    1. harmjschoonhoven

      Re: On time, On budget, Working...

      van Solingen and Berghout distinguish 4 dimensions: People, Quality, Cost and Time. You cannot sacifice one without paying with the other.

  6. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    "Feelings" worked great for Joseph Stalin.

    Make the people love me and I can get away with anything.

    ("He killed more people than Hitler, Pol Pot and the Black Death combined and 11 million people still think he did a good job" as Rober Harris's character observes in Archangel)

    Don't trust someone? Think they're "disloyal" ?

    Get rid of them.

    Sounds a bit psychotic?

    I doubt he's the only corporate "leader" you could describe that way.

  7. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    OMG no

    Economics? Both unrestricted free market capitalism and outright communism have failed gloriously for the exact same reason: they failed to allow for the full range of human behavior.

    Pardon? We have have been visited communism intermittently and since quite some time, but did we ever have "unrestricted free market capitalism", which would indeed allow for the "full range of human behaviour" because in principle there won't be anyone putting a gun to your head forcing you to sell - or buy? No, we didn't! Blatant socialistic policy as well as nepotism of the worst kind has been disparaged a "capitalism" by left-wingers of the red and brown kind alike. But this has nothing to do with "free market capitalism", a mythical beast if there was one.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This article started so well... the feels!

    Then the authors come to ... the irony: that the last 2.5 pages are nothing but authors fleeing to the Shelter of the Epistemologically Sloppy: argumentum ad temperantiam. Otherwise known as "We can't figure this shit out, but the middle *feeeeeeels* right." Which would be amusing if it hadn't been done 8 or 9 billion times already.

  9. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

    Running Cisco is simple

    A company like Cisco has the advantage of being the Gold Standard when it comes to networking and especially training. That is their strength and they should stick to it. Let smaller companies develop the next technology, and set your R&D teams onto the task of copying and improving it, or just buy the smaller company and resell their product while you work on integrating into your own. Then hit the market when the technology is mature and the marketplace is moving to adopt them. Most, if not all, CTOs of major companies will wait until version 2 of any product from an unknown company, but will buy the 1.1 version from someone like Cisco, and even version 1 if that new technology is just an addition to update for a product they have already.

    What is killing Cisco now is the high barrier to entry. Perhaps implement a buy-back and resell system. Sell new routers and switches to the big guys, buy back the old stuff to make staying with you cheaper than going with a major competitor, then refurbish the stuff you bought back and sell it to smaller companies who can't afford your newest and shiniest.

    What will kill Cisco is the push to be first-to-market and ending up pushing out a failed product and damaging their reputation. People buy Cisco because they know that it will run for several years before it needs servicing and that it will support new features eventually. Their routers from the early 90's are still running and a lot of them even support IPv6 despite having been built with AUI and serial ports on them...

  10. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    I had a new boss ask me how long it would take to finish up a side project he'd assigned to me. I told him four days. He shot back "what if I said you only had three?"

    I replied that it would still take four days, that I wasn't Scotty and didn't inflate my estimates and that the four days would be me working through lunches and into the early hours on my own time as a personal favor.

    He never tried that TV Time-limit crap on me again.

  11. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge
    Coat

    Why did everyone bring a box to work?

    The death of a big company: Management keeps getting bigger and bigger, processes get heavier and heavier, more accidents happen in the rush to maintain productivity, new processes are continuously added to prevent old accidents from happening again, no more real work can get done, and the chain of managers pushes down a mandate for everyone to work harder.

    1. Tim99 Silver badge
      Coat

      Fire Brigade Management...

      ...Or the art of being so busy putting out fires that you never have time to fireproof your system.

      The following is almost certainly is not an original thought, but because I bear many scars from it, please allow me to call it "Tim's 25:75 Rule".

      It is quite simple: If you stuff something up, it takes about 3 times as much effort/staff/time/cash to put it right, compared with getting it right the first time - Particularly if stuff-ups get out to customers. Simple arithmetic shows that If one job that takes 1 hour gets stuffed up, you lose an additional 3 hours - So in an 8 hour day, after you have put it right, you have lost 3 hours plus the original hour so you only have 4 hours left for other work. If your next job is stuffed up too, because of the stress of the first one, you have lost the rest of the 8 hour day. So you spend only 25% of the time actually earning money, and you have upset a customer twice.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Unsurprising really

    The US was started by people who wanted to escape an inbred monarchy and aristocracy, with their irrational demands and dysfunctional politics, running the military.

    Then they created a new inbred aristocracy of CEOs with the same irrational demands and dysfunctional office politics, running the military/industrial complex.

    There is something about the human mind, which evolved for living in small groups, that causes so many people to want a charismatic leader and to grant them excessive powers. Very occasionally you get an Augustus, more often you get a Tiberius.

  13. Unicornpiss Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Allow me to say...

    What a nutter.

    He wants "Faster! Faster! Faster!" (apparently for no good reason) and then mentions six-sigma accuracy in the same conversation. While it's true that on certain projects, people drag their feet and things don't get done. But it's also true that when you rush people through production you get unhappy, unhealthy people and situations like what brought down Southwest Airlines' check-in system this weekend, the GM ignition switch debacle, etc.

    I have to wonder how people like him would fare actually WORKING a job instead of issuing nonsensical and contradictory directives from the throne room, apparently on a whim. I don't know his history. Maybe he used to be in the trenches. If so, WTF happened to his common sense? What makes people think like this? A sudden unexpected blow to the head?

    1. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

      Re: "What makes people think like this?"

      Time based performance bonuses will do that. It happens fairly often in companies that manufacture products, you get people in upper management that used to work on the assembly line where faster is better, then they attempt to apply that same philosophy to the development side to disastrous results. BY the time that upper management has figured it out, that person has already been promoted and is starting the failure ascent to the top.

    2. thegeorge
      Unhappy

      Re: Allow me to say...

      I have met many such managers and only one of them came from "the trenches". The rest came straight into a management job, by virtue of connections, degree in management, luck or any combination of those factors. Guess who was the best boss.

      I really loathe this faster, faster mentality. As many have mentioned here and elsewhere, it just leads to people upscaling their time-frames, then the management picking up on it and upscaling their cuts... It's madness. And all the time the workers are stressed because they have to finish this one-week job in three days and poorly paid because they often don't (or can't) deliver.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There are two takeaways from this.

    1. Don't work at Cisco.

    2. Don't buy anything created by Cisco whilst this numpty has been CEO.

  15. Wommit

    Two comments on this article -

    1)"If someone says they need 30 days to complete a project, I'll say they've got three weeks. They say 18 months, I say nine. I dunno why – it just feels good." This sentence alone tells everyone that he's divorced from reality. He's not going to make a great leader with this bullying attitude.

    2)"In the startup world, this almost always ends in disaster. The "gut feel" CEOs are usually very "high touch." They're typically engineers or developers who are emotionally attached to the widget or application they've developed and they brook no heathens in the church they've built!

    Venture capitalists make them hire on marketing, sales, and channel heads, but a "high touch" CEO never listens to them. They view these professionals not as a source of insight and experience but merely as instruments to enact their will. This is typically accompanied by micromanaging, personality conflicts, the departure of the executives in question and – ultimately – failure."

    I've worked in a company headed by a man like this. It used to be embarrassing listening to him shouting at the directors. His obvious personality clashes and, again embarrassing, err... 'friends' made a normal workday quite fraught. He once fired a whole department, from director down to a bloke who started the day before. Maybe this was the correct thing to do, but given his track record on other "decisions" it seemed unlikely.

    The company failed, of course. Later contacts, by the administrators, mentioned a catalog of failures in leadership, direction, administration and micro-management. A pity really, because he had quite a good idea that might have succeeded.

  16. X-techhead

    Feeling it...

    As someone who until recently used to work an awful lot with Cisco this certainly rings alarm bells. The 'Feels' comment seems like an excuse for irrationality. In an organization the size of Cisco that will rapidly translate into more snowball management, lots of "Because I said so" decisions. If that sort of reasoning is good enough for the CEO it must be good enough for the middle manager, no?

  17. DCFusor Silver badge
    Holmes

    Cat free of bag!

    I've been around awhile, 62 years and counting, and watched the cycles and trends. For quite some time - almost all of my life - innovation by disruptive startups has been the biggest fear of the large, entrenched outfits - they publically hate one another, sure, but fear us even more.

    Name one law, if you can, since say, the '50s, that didn't further advantage the big guys over the small. You can't - and this isn't capitalism by a long shot. We extend patent and copyright terms, the big guys cross-license in backroom deals - hey, you violate 10k of my patents, and I yours - let's call it even (usually, or for small money - to them) but if you're a guy with one, you don't have a seat at the table, and they can sue you out of existence with their pocket change. Been there myself as an inventor. Yes, of late there have been some high profile lawsuits between companies trying to force a larger slice of the shrinking pie - but that's an aberration that may not last forever. And we're seeing secret settlements all the time of even those.

    Yet a large company can patent, say, the use of the XOR to switch two variables without an intermediate, or chasing your cat around with a laser pointer, or any number of things that "should not be patentable" - and it only costs millions and takes years to get their silly patent disqualified.

    As someone once said: "The law, in it's majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor from sleeping under bridges and stealing bread" - equality on the surface, but what rich person wants/needs to do those things? Ah, the lights slowly come on.

  18. PaulAb

    I'm in full agreement with my mate Chuck

    Based on Chuck's evangelising spirit and 'Can-do' idiocy. When, a few moments ago one of my colleagues said he'd make the tea in five minutes, I ordered him to get it to me in two minutes - and I wanted it hotter, tastier, and more of it in the same cup, now he won't make me one - I don't understand!

    All I wanted to do was make me feel good.

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