The LOTR Business Plan

I’ve been reading LOTR again lately and it’s been on my mind, so earlier when I was discussing certain universal aspects of business, I couldn’t help but use an LOTR analogy. Because I’m a massive nerd.

But the more the analogy was explored, the more it turned out to be totally accurate, at least from the perspective of an IT department.

Let’s start at the bottom. Average lower end, less experienced admins of all types are Men. They’re cannon fodder, like fighting Orcs, losing plenty along the way trying to keep the hordes at bay. Some of the more experienced tech support guys can go in here too. From here we can get a little more specific.

The Orcs are your common everyday users, assailing you with weak issues that you can slay all day long. They’re the barely-capable, unwashed, technologically deficient species that just bring plenty of fodder and none of the really big bugs. Easy-to-fix problems, just aggravating wastes of time. Your better Orcs, like the Uruk-Hai, are the managers of those Orcs. Same problems, really, but they can shout a lot louder about it. Lesser help-desk types are Orcs too: from any sort of server admin position, they just parrot the same problems at you.

Hobbits are the application admins. Once a problem comes along, they’re the poor shitheads who are stuck with it until it’s fixed, and for all the elves, dwarves, wizards, men, etc., saying they’ve got your back and will support you, they don’t actually DO much to help you beyond the initial token effort, and then they’re off doing their own shit again.

Dwarves are your developers. They can craft great works, and wear beards and live in caves and there are allegedly females but you’ve never ever heard of one. Ruins of applications they created decades ago will stick around until well after everyone is ready to abandon it, because nobody is sure if it’s still in use (Moria).

The Elves we’re going to split into two sections. First you have your Rivendell Elves, who are your HR department. Beautiful ideas of how everything is expected to work, no practical understanding of what the fuck is going on. Or to quote a friend on the subject, “that’s a bit harsh, i mean the elves of rivendell were aloof, self-sure arseholes with no idea what’s going on in the real world yet somehow expected everybody else to run shit by them OHHHHHHHHHHH I SEEEEE”. Spot on.

The second batch of elves are those in Lothlorien, who are your marketing/communications people. Just as hippy-dippy as the Rivendell ones, just as disconnected from reality, just as happy to throw people out into the wild to achieve obscenely difficult goals with not much more than some fancy cookies one of them baked.

There’s one character to cover all your information security people, and that’s Boromir. They seem useful and you’re glad for your help, but just as you’re about to go live they betray you by raising last-minute complaints about how secure your application is, and whether or not you should be allowed to read Twitter at work.

On to the Ents, who are your older, wiser, experienced Unix and Network admins. They’ve all got beards, they’re all slow to get going but once you do get them going, DAMN do they go. They know their shit and don’t fuck around if they don’t have to fuck around. The problem is that you can never really be sure one’s not going to become more tree-like and retire, and then all that ancient knowledge of places like Moria is lost.

Your IT Architects are the Istari, the wizards like Gandalf. They’re often behind the scenes, some working for you, some working against you. They’ll assist (when they do assist) with wise counsel and are listened to and respected, even when talking bollocks. Saruman is a different case and we’ll get to him later.

Then there are the project managers. They’re like a blend of Gollum and Tom Bombadil. At first they get a project and they seem all happy go lucky, and then it all starts to go to shit and they cling to their preciousss project. They’ll climb all over you demanding you fix their garbage, regardless of whether or not you really have anything to do with it. When they “help” you with something, you come away feeling weird about it, and they’re instantly on your back again demanding progress. “Hey dol, merry dol, ring a ding dillo, you said you’d have that server ready for me by Friday and we HATES YOU!”

Middle management are the Nazgul. They were once great and competent men (and women), but in their lust for power they became corrupted. They lost their physical form, their souls, and any actually useful technical competence that they ever had. And they will HOUND YOU. Nonstop they will be after you to middle manage the fuck out of whatever you’re doing, so badly that you just want to throw the goddamn ring at them and walk away, but when you get close to doing so they will stab you with the poisoned blade of remembering to fill out your ITIL-approved TPS forms and then you’re fucked.

Storage admins are Balrogs. The great and beautiful things created by the dev-Dwarves are inevitably ruined at some point because someone lost the goddamned backups, and then inevitably the Orcs overwhelm you wanting to know why (rather than pestering the storage people).

In the Dead Marshes are full of the souls of vendors and middleware sellers. It looks like there’s people there, but no, not anymore. They were once IT people, but don’t look too close or take their calls because that’s how they get you. Meanwhile the vendor sales folks are like Shelob, hiding their true nature in the dark (by buying you lunch) and then revealing their true, horrible selves and trying to tie you up. You’re just as often as not led to them by your project manager who then fucks off and leaves you to suffer.

Consultants are the barrow-wights. Soulless, ethereal, they snare you and try desperately trap you with memories of days of old (“Well client X does it like this so you should too even if it has nothing to do with your needs”). The problem here is that Tom Bombiprojectmanager is on their side and aren’t about to save you.

And now we come to executive management. Here are your Saurons and Sarumans. Once, they were good and kind and helpful to the people’s of the world. And perhaps they still maintain that facade. But eventually they begin to crave more power than they’ve got and struggle with one another for the control of the living peoples. They got towers (offices) and have hordes of minions that don’t seem to do anything (orcs) and honey-tongued assistants who would just as soon murder you as speak to you (the Mouth of Sauron, Wormtongue).

There are a couple of other groups that we hadn’t figured out yet (outsourced developers, ITIL process people, etc.). But it all does seem to fit together neatly. A little too neatly.