Habush Habush and Rottier

Friday, May 16, 2014

Epic's Principles, Part 4

It's been a while since I first posted the full list. Ergo:

Epic's 13 principles
1. Do not go public.
2. Do not be acquired.
3. Expectations = reality.
4. Keep commitments.
5. Be frugal.
6. Have standards. Don't do deals.
7. Create innovative and helpful products.
8. Have fun with customers.
9. Follow processes. Find root causes. Fix processes.
10. Don't take on debt for operations, no matter how good the deal.
11. Focus on competency. Do not tolerate mediocrity.
12. Teach philosophy and culture.
13. If you disagree, dissent. Once decided, support.

 This week brings us to Principle 6: Have standards. Don't do deals.

Whenever I heard Judy explain it at staff meetings, she related it to the price of the software. I.e., Kaiser pays the same price per license as Maine Health. Epic isn't going to give one customer a huge discount just to get its business. Like the first two principles, I never saw how it related to me, personally, as someone not in a position to make deals. As I'm thinking about it now though, with my embittered snarkiness in full bloom, Judy and the sales team are the only folks at the company who are even in a position where they could follow this principle, in Sales or otherwise.

If Epic employees had standards, they wouldn't allow themselves to work 60-80 hour weeks. If Epic employees had standards, they'd give their bosses realistic expectations of the work that they can realistically handle in a given week. If Epic employees had standards, they would politely but firmly inform their TLs that their customers are used to certain standards of support, standards that will no longer be achievable if the employee's customer load increases.

I've often said that one of the reasons Judy primarily hires recent college grads is because they don't yet know what is standard for work expectations. If they don't know any better, they're easier to exploit.

Realistically though, the Epic rank-and-file just aren't in a position where they can obey Principle 6. If they tried, they'd be out of a job faster than you can say "Fix processes." In fact, Epic actively encourages its employees to lower its standards. I remember a conversation I had with my TL, after he listened in on a weekly issues call with my customer.
TL: You said "I don't know" a lot.
Me:  That's because I didn't know the answer off the top of my head. I want to research it before giving them potentially incorrect information.
TL: Just tell them something, and then correct it later.
Me: ...Ok... (raised eyebrow)

After the next issues call the TL listened to:
TL: You told them some things that aren't right.
Me: But you said--!
You get the picture, and you've probably lived through it. It is possible in certain areas of life to have standards that are too high. However, in a situation with as much potential for harm as clinical software, there shouldn't be any compromises when it comes to accuracy. You shouldn't have to make a deal between response time and response accuracy.

The "don't do deals" aspect is also interesting, in that it's definitely one sided. Epic won't cut a deal for anyone, but boy-oh-boy will it wring every last advantage out of anything that comes its way. I'm thinking primarily of how it burns through its employees, but I'm sure Judy is reaping lots of rewards from her seat on Barack's EHR panel.

In any rate, the upper echelons at Epic are in a position to obey the principle as it relates to customer expectations. But internally, standards are always movable.


  1. Yet another fine chapter in the cognitive dissonance that defines all things Epic.

    I was a TL for a few years before I left, so I particularly enjoyed your sample "standards" worker-TL dialogue. That crazy sense of contradiction and disconnect so many Epic workers have with their TLs--and that you characterize well--comes straight from Judy, who (at least when I was there in the mid/late 2000s) exhorted managers to be capricious. Her idea was that you keep people at peak productivity by making sure they never know, exactly, where the goal post is. Independently-minded malcontents won't stand for it and will leave; but people eager to please--people who *need* to please--will just keep trying. So you can essentially keep pulling 125% out of them indefinitely by being an ass and constantly moving the marker of what they need to do or how they need to do it. Judy's specific recommendation at how to get this behavior started: deny vacation requests for no reason and with no discernible pattern. If you're imagining a room full of 200 TLs groaning, privately, at how exactly to implement this cherry management "advice" and how to keep a team running if the critical thinkers and future leaders leave, you've got the right idea.

    Again, at least when I was there, Judy was very clear with the TLs about whom Epic really wanted to employ: not leaders, not critical thinkers, not even especially talented people. She wanted people who were eager to please, people who *needed* to please.

    But I disagree with you that Epic "obeys the principle" as it relates to customer expectations. If Epic were satisfying customers, Madison wouldn't be booming with so many Epic-specific consulting firms, of which there seems to be a new one mushrooming from the Near-West-Side firmament every week.

    Everyone knows Epic's schtick--that the software is basically an undocumented rat's nest of bailing wire and duct tape, that it works because Judy has an unlimited supply of college kids graduating in a crap economy to throw at it. It's the most open "secret" in IT. The whole thing is a hustle and a grift that's perfectly tuned to this historical moment's economic and social pressures. The "principles" and the campus and the "culture": that's just Judy's version of carnival barking. Unfortunately for her (and Madison), the moment is changing. The further the social and political magnifying glass moves over healthcare costs, the less attractive Epic will look. It won't just be the malcontents gawking at Judy's 20 warehouses of junkyard art and wondering if that's our society's best use of healthcare money.

    Something tells me that 20 years from now, the post-mortem analysis on Epic Systems will conclude on a fourteenth principle--one that Judy really should've seen, given her supposedly savant-like business acumen: "The bigger they are, the harder they fall."

  2. I'd love to hear more about the TL meetings. They were always so mysterious about this. My last TL was someone who believed in sucking up to the system there, not all TLs do.

  3. To quote one of the last few TLs in my division that wasn't drowning in the kool aid, and said this line of wisdom about our company's "morals":

    "Epic only keeps its committments to customers, not to employees."

  4. I just came across this blog, so apologies for getting in this conversation at this late date. But when you talked about Epic wanting employees to lower their standards, I was nodding my head while I read your dialogue with your TL. I worked as a technical writer at Epic 7 years ago, and I remembered my new TL telling me I needed to provide output faster. I told him I carefully crafted each sentence I wrote so they would be as good as they could be on first draft (thus saving my reviewers time). He told me what was important was to get words on the page, and then my reviewers would fix it for me. I thought that was crazy. It sounded like passing off my job to someone else just so I could maintain an illusion that I was getting more work done. (I also inherited a lot of my TL's work after he was promoted to TL, and I saw what a lousy writer HE was.) I ran for the exits after only 8 months at Epic. But as an older employee with lots of real-world experience before Epic, I had little tolerance for BS.

  5. As everyone is aware, I review every comment before publishing them. Spambots happen, and I like to keep this corner of the web free from that. Also, I like to keep the comments on topic.

    Anyway, someone posted this, and I edited it:

    I am curious as to how EPIC pays its Indian H1 employees.
    There is a certain [redacted] blogger who is always boasting about how his son (Indian) makes a mint @ Epic and blah...blah.. [sic]
    google Vadakayil