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Lipstick On A Pig
Dennis – President, Effective Engineering [firstname.lastname@example.org]
working hard at your job of managing a group that builds ‘products’ for
your customers, trying to do what has been asked of you using some
internally developed specialized tools you’ve been told (forced) to
use. These tools haven’t changed substantially in years, other than
minor tweaks and enhancements, but the projects you’ve been asked to use
them on to meet your customers’ increasingly more demanding needs have
gotten progressively more complex and difficult to implement, and the
tools just aren’t up to the jobs.
You’ve tried to make it known and clear to those in the organization
that created these specialized tools that they are increasingly more
inadequate to do the ever more complex jobs. You’ve listed in detail
what is needed to effectively and efficiently carry out your jobs and
you’ve prioritized your needs to indicate what is needed most all the
way down to what would be nice to have but isn’t as critical. However,
that organization has their own list of priorities to work on, and your
group’s needs just never seem to make it to their list of priorities.
You escalate to your management chain to try to bring some pressure to
bear, explaining that your group’s productivity and efficiency is
suffering greatly due to these outdated tools, and the loss of
productivity and efficiency leads directly to loss of revenues and
profits that are critical to company growth and success. It appears
your concerns are finally being heard and that something will be finally
be done. Yea! But then you hear that the way your problems will be
addressed is to strap some band aids on the existing inadequate tools,
and that what is being proposed will barely make a dent in the problems
you’ve been having, much less the problems you see coming from even more
complex customer needs.
From your perspective, the other organization is trying to put
lipstick on a pig (also known as polishing a turd)!
Of course the problem is that when you put lipstick on a pig, you’re
still left with a pig. That is, they’re trying to build upon an
inadequate product (the pig) by adding some mostly cosmetic changes (the
lipstick) that simply won’t fix the underlying problems you’re seeing.
Their “fixes” simply won’t address the underlying problems.
So what can you do when faced with such a situation?
• Go with the flow. Use what you’re given (and you will
like it or else!) and try your hardest to make it work. Of course, it
probably won’t, and, since the “improvements” (lipstick) will
have been provided, blame will more than likely be placed more on you
than on the inadequate tools you’ve been given to do the job. Such is
life when you go with the flow!
• Get creative, where possible. Work with your team to
see what can be done using what you have to improve your productivity
and efficiency without depending on another organization to “help”
or just accepting whatever they can provide. This can include modifying
and improving your processes to avoid or overcome some of the
shortcomings of the current or ‘lipstick’ed’ tool, or other
changes in what you do and how you do it. In such cases, the creativity
of your team can sometimes overcome obstacles previously thought
eN-081002 – Pigasus – When Pigs Fly!). Give your team their
chance to fly, but don’t punish them if the inadequate tools still make
• Look for alternatives. Look for other creative ways of
getting what’s needed using commercially available products and see if
you can cobble together a solution that can somehow work with what
you’ve got, and that, while clearly not optimal, is better than what
you’ve got today or what you’ll be provided when the ‘lipstick’
is applied to the ‘pig’. If possible, work with the organization
providing the current tools to see if they can help guide such an
• Push harder. Make your case better with concrete
examples of what’s really needed and why. Demonstrate conclusively with
a detailed cost/benefits analysis that makes a clear case for doing
things the right way rather than using band aids. Work closely with the
organization providing the tools to demonstrate how it is in their and
your interest to improve the tool in the proper ways. Show clearly the
adverse impact on revenues and profits, and the costs that can be
clearly afforded if the proper tools are provided to overcome the
adverse impact. Ask them to get creative! Show them ways they can get
this done cost effectively without impacting their current roadmap (e.g.
by outsourcing and overseeing the work rather than taking it on
• Outsource entirely. See if you can find a dedicated
outside organization that can cost effectively do the job to enhance the
capabilities of the existing tool, or develop all of the capabilities
needed for you to effectively and efficiently do your job. You want an
organization that can do this in a dedicated fashion, rather than as an
afterthought to the existing organization’s real priorities. Think of
this more as performing minor surgery rather than just applying
• Think further outside the box. Think further outside of
the box to see if there is an effective way to outsource the work of
your team to someone who really has the wherewithal to put things
together. Of course, this could have devastating effects on you and
your team, but it may be the best solution for the company overall. All
possibilities must be on the table.
• Think even further outside of the box. I’m not even
sure what this could be, but put on your most creative hat and think the
unthinkable. Without imposing limits, what could be done to solve your
We often encounter ‘roadblocks’ in almost every area in corporate
work life. Every organization has their demands, their priorities, and
their limitations. These may well adversely impact other organizations
that depend on them. A common approach is to make incremental changes
to something another organization needs in an attempt to kick the
problems down the road to avoid doing something more significant now.
Their problems are typically of much greater concern to them than
another organization’s problems. The result is too often putting
lipstick on a pig. Finding effective ways to avoid putting
lipstick on a pig is usually more in (almost) everyone’s best interest.
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