Now that's our kind of emergency!

After years of working for government agencies, this IT pilot fish gets a programming job at the headquarters of a large railroad company -- "and found out what real bureaucracy was like!" he says.

"They operated a very large and complex online, realtime, multi-database environment, doing everything from processing paychecks and filing government forms to scheduling locomotives and maintaining the realtime inventory of where each rail car was that day."

Just as elaborate is the company's change-management process for moving new and updated software into production. And it seems like the process gets more elaborate every time a new install causes problems -- which happens a lot, in part because the software test environment doesn't match the production version when it comes to critical components like databases.

That means to get installation approval, fish has to get the signature of his project lead (who actually knows something about fish's work), plus the development manager (who manages more than 250 programmers) and a variety of other managers. And that all has to be done by noon on Monday, because installs are only done on Wednesday nights.

But fish quickly learns about a workaround: The company has an "Emergency Install" process that requires one simple form, a signature from a project lead or even senior analyst, and checking off a box confirming that the customer department has been notified. And emergency installs can be done at any time.

"Before long, many programming areas were using this process to install many or most of their changes," says fish. "Best was to do it about 5:30 p.m., when the install guardians had left work and were driving home for supper, and weren't inclined to turn around and come back in to check the paperwork -- they just authorized the operators to go ahead with the install."

Eventually, though, almost half of all installs are being done on an "emergency" basis -- and the change management people notice.

But they don't conclude that the installation process needs to be streamlined so programmers won't be inclined to misuse the "emergency" designation. Instead, they decide they need another rule.

And in short order a memo from management shows up on programming-area bulletin boards. The key point: "Effective immediately, all emergencies must be scheduled at least 48 hours in advance".

Reports fish, "Some anonymous individual went around and highlighted that line in the postings on each bulletin board. Others passed it on to their customer departments, who got a good laugh out of it.

"And still others began calling up, asking to schedule an emergency for later this week. Cause: not yet known."

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