Monday, 25 September 2000
The steam stops to emerge from my ears. There is no more water.

Past couple of weeks were quite hectic. For several months I was able to enjoy summer, had a Guinness or two in Ireland, wrote a database design course, relaxed, spent a lot of time in the hammock, and played around with CSS. Pretty relaxed.

But my life of luxury is over and out, since 6 September. Next half year is going to be busy, and the first month just passed the first half.

I thought I'd seen it all. With my 16 years IT experience I sometimes feel like a veteran between all these "youngsters". Seen all, done all, that's what I thought. Well, the French youngsters of my current customer proved me wrong. They work at a paste that I only know from Malaysia.

  1. In the morning I rise and hurry towards the train station. I buy some breakfast and have it aboard the train. I read a bit of IT literature, read some printed emails, write a bit for other customers.
  2. Once I get into the office, fresh ideas, that emerged during the night's background processing, fly back and forth. I start hitting the keyboard.
  3. Lunch break is short. Mostly some rolls, during a quick walk in sunny The Hague.
  4. The afternoon is for the keyboard again, till around 8 o'clock in the evening.
  5. We stop to order some food, mostly some Chineese from Sien-Fat (www.goudengids.nl/...) or a pizza.
  6. The evening session varies, depending on the workload. Here an early night means "Before midnight, when the trains still run". A late night will end somewhere after four o'clock in the morning.
  7. Get home quickly by taxi from The Hague. The local night crew among the taxi drivers know my face already.
  8. A few hours of sleep, and the next day starts.
It's crazy to be part of this. The way these French handle projects really impresses me. No bullshit with procedures, it's the result and nothing but the result that counts. Meet your deadline, and just continue hammering.

Past couple of weeks were so hectic as my team members and me were on the critical path. Every hour of delay in our module meant an hour delay for the entire project.

Such a limiting factor is called "the drum" in Goldratt's Theory Of Constraints (www.smt.com.au/theconcept.htm), as it determines the paste for the other processes. A good ERP system maximises the through put by using the drum to it's maximum. It's all well known theory for me, but it's the first time that I'm a drum myself.

Theory Practice
Minimise breaks, maximise production time No more off-duty evenings and weekends. These are a luxury only known in more quiet times. Time consuming activities like shopping, cooking, laundry and ironing seize to exist. I out source everything, even buy new shirts when my wardrobe runs out of fresh ones. It's the same story for my team members.
Make sure the drum never stops due to lack of work. Crate a buffer of input. A shared document has a continuously updated to-do list. All team members continuously make additions with new assignments for each other. My short term memory is a notebook with scribbles, and countless post-it sticky pads.
Maximize the drums performance with the best staff. The team has 3 members, each with his own expertise. It's a human 3 tier architecture.
  1. OBA is the JHTML specialist and creates one page after the other.
  2. Henry Jean is enjoying himself with object modelling, sandwiched with his Java beans between GUI and database layer.
  3. Chenda takes control of the database layer. He is fluent in SQL, knows how to find all tables and "Clé etrangers" blindfolded.
It's a weird experience for me. Everything, everything is of secondary importance, and cooperates to maximise the drum.

A printer problem? Consider it fixed! Fancy some Tau Si Kai? We'll order some. Have trouble to keep your eyes open? Go to an empty upper floor to have a nap. The trains have stopped running, and you can't go home? No worries, we'll call you a cap. Never seen Javascript in your life? Out source it to another programmer. Dead from the neck up after a week or two, and unable to see your own typo's? Have a 'fresh' programmer as assistant, a kind of human spell checker.

Only last Thursday I got several hours rest, to celebrate the 5th birthday of Suzanne, my daughter. It was a very nice outing for me, to another world, where time is plenty, my name is just Henk Jan, and where I can play games, eat pie, and hug-box. After eight in the evening I return to the drum with a torn shirt, and quite fresh after a short nap in the train. The keyboard is waiting, dinner will arrive soon. This working day is only half way.

The drum approach is extreme, but it works. The first module is almost finished. The rest of the bunch is no longer waiting for us. It's the end of the drum, back to 'normal' IT work weeks.

We celebrate the success with a lunch on the 'Plein', a square in the Hague city centre. The sun shines on the pavement. I order an ice tea, to refill my water stock. I doze a bit, absent minded and miss most of the party.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, my Tai Chi lessons will resume, a kind of slow motion karate. I wonder whether I'll be able to do the exercises slow enough. My Chineese teacher will take over the drum role.

Till next week!