Friday, September 18, 2015

Zen and the Art of Essbase Maintenance

Welcome to another laid back Friday. I’m eager to get the weekend started so let me get right into my ramblings for today.

My son began his formal education at what is known as a Glasser Quality School. I found it very interesting to have discussions about quality with a five year old child. Is this handwriting quality work? Was that a quality sentence you just read? It felt very strange to me considering the fact that I never had such a discussion using the word “quality” until I was in college. As he boarded the school bus in the morning I would yell to him, “do quality work today”. I still say it to both my children on a regular basis. They roll their eyes.

This idea of quality has kept many people up at night, it has even driven one person to have a nervous breakdown. His name is Robert Pirsig. He talks about his descent into mental illness in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. In the book he discusses the idea of quality at great length. The passage that races through my mind again and again even years after I’ve read the book is the one below. Pirsig is looking for a mechanic on his long drive…

Inside I see that Bill is a mechanic of the "photographic mind" school. Everything lying around everywhere. Wrenches, screwdrivers, old parts, old motorcycles, new parts, new motorcycles, sales literature, inner tubes, all scattered so thickly and clutteredly you can’t even see the workbenches under them. I couldn’t work in conditions like this but that’s just because I’m not a photographic-mind mechanic. Bill can probably turn around and put his hand on any tool in this mess without having to think about where it is. I’ve seen mechanics like that. Drive you crazy to watch them, but they get the job done just as well and sometimes faster. Move one tool three inches to the left though, and he’ll have to spend days looking for it.

Am I a developer of the “photographic mind”? Are my scripts scattered so thickly and clutteredly you can’t tell what they’re supposed to do? What if I get hit by a bus – what is the next developer going to be left to clean up? If I’m a consultant, leaving such a mess behind would be shameful. My fiduciary duty to my client is to do quality work. Am I one of those “genius consultants” who designs a system so complex that maintenance is only able to be performed by the one who built it?

In graduate school I was fortunate to be able to take an operations management class. We dissected, in great detail, the case of the Toyota Production System (TPS). There are several principles in this system but the one that has stuck with me over the years is kaizen. Roughly translated from Japanese the word means “improvement”. Within TPS it goes deeper than just improvement. Rather it means “continuous improvement”. You’re never done. There’s always something you can improve upon.

Maintenance is sometimes seen as a boring job. Many people want to work on projects on the cutting edge of technology. Those are exciting but if you don’t properly maintain the existing production systems their performance will eventually degrade and people will start speaking ill of the system you “designed poorly”.

Within the field of Essbase development, there are so many variables. Feeds come in from other systems with new hierarchies and more data than we might have planned on storing. Things can change rapidly during the course of a year. Leaving a cube alone for very long is usually a recipe for failure. We want to know about issues before we have an irate business sponsor on the phone with us. For us, maintenance is required.

I’ll leave you today with another tidbit I picked up in that operations management class: The Eight Dimensions of Quality as written by David Garvin. This puts quality into a more concrete form than Pirsig did. Keep these dimensions in mind as you work. They’re applicable to anything really, just as the discussion of quality is at the heart of anything.

1. Performance
2. Features
3. Reliability
4. Conformance
5. Durability
6. Serviceability
7. Aesthetics
8. Perceived Quality

Now go do quality work today.

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