The Details are in the Details

by Dwayne Phillips

Managers want to hear the summary. The details are delegated. It is unfortunate that the summary rarely agrees with the details.

“Summarize it for me. Give me three choices. I delegate.” — managers everywhere all the time.

Simple statement from the managers. They have manager tasks to do. They delegate work to others. The others are supposed to summarize things and then do the work.

That would be nice. I guess it works in some fairy tales. I have rarely seen it work in the real world.

Here is a recent news report on algorithms — those mysterious things that seem to run the world even though we don’t understand what they are.

Algorithms are what the computer software does. The computer software is written by persons who understand the algorithms. Hence, you can regulate algorithms by regulating the computer programmers or at least supervising them.

The managers are supposed to supervise the computer programmers.

“What does this do? Give me the summary. I don’t have time for the details,” said the manager.

That is nonsense. The details are in the details. Look at the source code of the software to understand the algorithm. No time? Well, that is your job. Make the time.

Summaries in PowerPoint and memos do not contain details. The details are in the details. I have often seen summaries that aren’t quite true. The creators of the summaries are not trying to hide the details or lie about them. They were hired to write details into software. They weren’t hired to summarize. They simply do a poor job of summarizing.

They summarize (poorly). The managers approve (ignorantly). The results are not what was desired. Everyone gasps and says, “Gosh. There is no way to regulate algorithms.”

Come on folks. Let’s all do better.



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Dwayne Phillips

Engineer, computing, consulting, writing, teaching, and a few other things in an effort to make us all better and smarter.