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Impact of Refactoring in the Workplace

Manufacturing employees are keenly aware of the impact of new combinations in the workplace. Depending on which management guru is your current favorite, workers in an assembly environment should do one of the following:

  • Become focused specialists capable of performing a single task very quickly

  • Become cross-functional members of assembly teams, capable of interchange as needs dictate

Increasingly sophisticated cheap foreign labor, robots, and repetitive stress disorders are proving that neither approach is safe in the crosshairs of corporate management.

Even so, there is a lesson to be learned from such experiences. In this case, I'll call it the complexity factor.

Guideline 3: Complexity

This includes the complexity of the overall tasks as they exist separately, and the complexity of combining those tasks. It's a short-sighted, even destructive manager who relegates an employee to a single task for many years. This is a job loss waiting to happen. This is also true of a software engineer who refuses to revisit a design. Part of the inertia for refactoring is a healthy acceptance that nothing can be adequately defined on the first try.

The trick is to observe a system (of employees or classes) as it attempts to perform necessary tasks. With careful analysis, related tasks that are simply additive rather than a complex combination of actions can be identified. (Think Full Metal Jacket's Private Joker as Marine with journalist responsibilities added.) Redefining responsibilities of an employee or application can often cause resources to be moved where they will be more productive.

Another major target of workplace consolidation is consolidation of workplaces. Roughly hewn, it's called mergers and acquisitions (M&A). At one time, these changes in business structure were designed to combine supply chains, create economies of scale to reduce costs, or eliminate competitors. But it's a rare occasion now when a merger's purpose is anything more than executive profiteering or a naked power grab.

Guideline 4: Scale

It took an Act of Congress to make most radio stations unlistenable. When the FCC guidelines about station ownership were lifted, two companies began purchasing the airwaves. The resulting state of radio is proof of the fourth axiom—scale. There is a point at which a system can simply be too large to serve its purpose effectively. Often this will happen when the original purpose is lost. While this is similar to complexity, assembly of large objects can still be relatively simple.

Scale is the most ambitious decision criterion because it's guided by a view of the larger picture—the same view that many choose not to see. While radio stations may be more profitable than ever for the time being, the sharp increase in commercial content and the replacement of musical artists with corporate packaging is the sort of abstract social cost that decision makers often ignore.

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