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Patterns aren’t just for software (ExpertsExchange 20051004)

For the last newsletter I wrote a brief article describing what design patterns were and the educational benefits that they can have as they are generalized knowledge. I hope atleast a few of the managers out there read the article and realized that it may be a good idea to pursue this further with their staff. This week I will be writing about another kind of pattern which is directed at managerial staff.

Before I go into the realm of the business anti-patterns I should first explain the concept of an “Anti-Pattern”. An anti-pattern is a well documented and commonly used mistake for which there are known solutions. They are extremely useful in identifying common problems within your knowledge base; since they are common problems they also tend to include many possible paths to fix the problem in the long term along with the risks of each path. This being said, let’s jump right into a few that you can immediately identify in areas around you, but hopefully not your own company!


A very common problem in a company occurs when the founder(s) of the company stays on board as its CEO for too long of a period of time. It is rather obvious from looking in that it takes a very different type of person to grow a company from say one store to five hundred than to grow the same company from five hundred to five thousand. This anti pattern is extremely well know and is fondly known as “Founderitis”. This pattern can also be identified with the founder(s) of a company’s inability to delegate tasks to subordinates leading to micromanagement. As you can see, this is a pattern that applies both to business processes as well as software design our next pattern will apply to both as well.

“The Golden Hammer”

A great piece of wisdom once came out Abraham Maslow, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail”. This sums up this anti-pattern very well, it is very hard to identify solutions to process problems when you have never learned that there are better ways of handling the problems. This anti-pattern is also often seen in not having a true understanding of WHY something worked and therefor trying to apply the same working solution to problems it was never intended to work for. There is but one solution to this anti-pattern, knowledge.

“The Underpants Gnomes Business Plan”

I believe I am the first to ever officially title this anti-pattern, it can be a direct cause for “Hockey Stick Revenue Projections”.

[In the gnomes’ cave]
Gnome 1: This is where all our work is done.
Kyle: So what are you gonna do with all these underpants you steal?
Gnome 1: Collecting underpants is just phase one. Phase one: collect underpants.
Kyle: So what’s phase two?
Gnome 1: Hey, what’s phase two?!
Gnome 2: Phase one: we collect underpants.
Gnome 1: Ya, ya, ya. But what about phase two?
Gnome 2: Well, phase three is profit. Get it?
Stan: I don’t get it.
Gnome 2: (Goes over to a chart on the wall) You see, Phase one: collect underpants, phase two-
Gnome 2: Phase three: profit.
Cartman: Oh I get it.
Stan: No you don’t.
Kyle: Do you guys know anything about corporations?
Gnome 2: You bet we do.
Gnome 1: Us gnomes are geniuses at corporations.

Is anyone wonderring what Phase Two is? Unfortunately this rediculous jump in logic is quite common with business plans (as well as software design cycles). Some very well known companies have fallen into this logic trap; Yahoo, WebMd, and the very site you are receiving this from.

If you are unaware, Experts Exchange went bankrupt in 2001 after capital venturists moved the company to San Mateo, CA. They pumped loads of money into marketting the site including free T-Shirts etc. Their business plan was to create the largest online resource for knowledge, phase three profit. The major lack was where this profit was intended to come from or how the revenue stream was to be built in the interim period to move the company off of injection capital and to have it become self sufficient.

The problematic logic here is that the site needs to reach a critical mass before phase three, this can be directly correlated to the “Hockey Stick Revenue Projections” anti-pattern as it describes a sudden and continued jump in revenues for no apparent reason. If a site will be receiving all of this revenue once it reaches critical mass, it should be able to receive a subset of that revenue prior to reaching this critical mass. Luckily Austin Miller and Randy Redberg seem to recognize this and as such I can continue to write in this newsletter.

It is important to realize that these patterns exist in both software design and in business management. Although the tendancy is to have software designers and business professionals who can’t stand to be in the same room together, we fight many related battles and we can actually learn alot from each other. I will be expanding on this thought in the next newsletter.

Greg Young

“Time to go to work, work all night
search for underpants hey!
We won’t stop until we have underpants
Yum tum yummy tum day!”


AntiPatterns: Refactoring Software, Architectures, and Projects in Crisis, William j. Brown
I’M Not Anti-Business, I’M Anti-Idiot Dilbert,  Scott Adams (identifies many anti-patterns in a humerous way)
The Six Sigma Handbook, Thomas Pyzdek

Web: “Hockey Stick Projections” “The basic laws of human stupidity”;=showpage&pid;=228&page;=2 The Burning Bag of Dung and other Environmental Anti-Patterns

This article is part of the GWB Archives. Original Author: Greg Young

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