In 1944, the Office of Strategic Services—the predecessor of the post-war CIA—was concerned with sabotage directed against enemies of the US military. Among their ephemera, declassified and published today by the CIA, is a fascinating document called the Simple Sabotage Field Manual (PDF). It's not just about blowing things up; a lot of its tips are concerned with how sympathizers with the allied cause can impair enemy material production and morale:
- Managers and Supervisors: To lower morale and production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.
- Employees: Work slowly. Think of ways to increase the number of movements needed to do your job: use a light hammer instead of a heavy one; try to make a small wrench do instead of a big one.
- Organizations and Conferences: When possible, refer all matters to committees, for "further study and consideration." Attempt to make the committees as large and bureaucratic as possible. Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.
- Telephone: At office, hotel and local telephone switchboards, delay putting calls through, give out wrong numbers, cut people off "accidentally," or forget to disconnect them so that the line cannot be used again.
- Transportation: Make train travel as inconvenient as possible for enemy personnel. Issue two tickets for the same seat on a train in order to set up an "interesting" argument.
Some of these sabotage methods are commonplace tactics deployed in everyday workplace feuds. It's often hard to know where incompetence ends and malice begins: the beauty of organizations is that most of them have no effective immune systems against such deliberate excesses of incompetence.
So it occured to me a week or two ago to ask (on twitter) the question, "what would a modern-day version of this manual look like if it was intended to sabotage a rival dot-com or high tech startup company"? And the obvious answer is "send your best bad managers over to join in admin roles and run their hapless enemy into the ground". But what actual policies should they impose for best effect?
Obviously, engineers and software developers (who require deep focus time) need to be kept in touch with the beating heart of the enterprise. So open-plan offices are mandatory for all.
Teams are better than individuals and everyone has to be aware of the valuable contributions of employees in other roles. So let's team every programmer with a sales person—preferably working the phones at the same desk—and stack-rank them on the basis of each pair's combined quarterly contribution to the corporate bottom line.
It is the job of Human Resources to ensure that nobody rocks the boat. Anyone attempting to blow whistles or complain of harrassment is a boat-rocker. You know what needs to be done.
The company must have a strong sense of intense focus. So we must have a clean desk policy—any personal possessions left on the desk or cubicle walls at the end of the day go in the trash. In fact, we can go a step further and institute hot desking—we will establish an average developer's workstation requirements and provide it for everyone at every desk.
All work environments must be virtualized and stashed on the corporate file servers for safe-keeping. Once we've worked out how many VMs we need to run, we can get rid of the surplus hardware—redundancy is wasteful.
Programmers don't need root/admin access to their development environments. Marketing, however, need to be able to manage the CRM and should have global admin permissions across the network.
All communications within the company will be conducted using the corporation's own home-rolled secure instant messaging/email system. IT Services are hard at work porting the PocketPC 2006 Second Edition client to Android 2.2 and Windows Vista; it should be available any day now, at which point the iPaqs and XP boxes will be sunsetted. (This has the added benefit of preventing the developers from sneaking Macs or Linux systems into the office.)
Stand-up meetings will be scheduled every morning, to allow the development team to share insights and situational awareness. To ensure that everybody has their say everybody will be allocated exactly the same amount of time to speak. If they don't have anything to fill the silence with, we will wait it out, to encourage slow thinkers to keep up.
If a project is running late, then everybody in the department will move to a death-march overtime tempo and pitch in until it's done, shelving their own jobs and switching tasks if necessary. If a death march is established and still fails to produce deliverables on time, then as punishment the coffee in the departmental cafetiere will be switched to decaff.