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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Epic's Principles, Part 10

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.

We've arrived at the final installment, and the one I'm least qualified to write about, as my tenure at Epic predates this principle.

Business books describing streamlined, high-functioning teams or companies generally agree that there is value in hearing all viewpoints regarding a given issue. Leaders don't always have the best view of what's happening on the ground, and smart leaders like to know if they're rapidly progressing to a cliff. Also, a team cannot be high-functioning if its members are working at cross purposes. Once the decision-makers have had their say, the team must unify their efforts. This is a sound business principle, and a good idea.

However, this requires that leaders be able to admit that they're wrong. I don't think Epic's leadership has that ability. Those stillborn ideas that I remember from staff meetings were never spoken of again, and no documentation existed in the first place. I can't imagine any of the power holders at Epic admitting that they thought developing a Farmville-esque Facebook game about healthy kids* was a good idea. For dissent to be valuable, leaders have to listen to it, and to listen to it means they have to acknowledge that they may be wrong. Epic's culture doesn't permit the rank and file to question authority.

I saw this article about the Pontiac Aztek, and it seems appropriate.

The 13th principle is a good goal, but I don't see how Epic can actually follow it--they'd have to change a lot about their culture and philosophy to make it happen. It's admirable that Epic has considered it, and that Epic is encouraging it (at least on paper), but I don't see their cultural inertia changing directions any time soon. On behalf of all current and future Epic employees, I'd love to be proved wrong here.

*I remember Judy talking about this idea several times over a period of a couple months.


  1. That "support" only works when it's already aligned with a manager's interests.

    As the HIM TS team's average hours worked rose to most in the company, one influential TL told a group of younger TS, who wanted to create a team morale social, that there was no morale problem and to just make it a new hire event.

    That sums up the culture of who gets promoted and how the honest ones are treated.

  2. So far, in my time at Epic, I haven't been in a meeting yet where someone proposed a dissenting idea or even manage to propose an alternate idea. It's disturbing how little people ever seem to really even have questions that aren't just clarification questions.

    1. This is the sick culture of Epic. If you are one to think outside of the box, or respectfully question or make suggestions to your supervisor with ideas to make things run more efficiently, or your Team Leader feels threatened by your free-thinking intelligence, then Epic will most likely inform you that you are "not a good fit" for their company and then will probably try to bribe you with severance pay so you willingly resign and then Epic does not risk tarnishing their 'hiring" reputation/statistics. I have seen this pattern all too often and the young employees are taken advantage of with the Miss Judy-directed talking points. "With Epic on your resume, you will have no problem finding another job." Seriously???

  3. I really appreciate your blog - pretty much sums up what many employees experience at Epic who are "out-of-the blue" encouraged (forced) to resign by an overly cheerful Team Leader and HR department. Team Leaders and HR are robots trained in the same Miss Judy language. It is an unsettling and stressful environment and if you have the chance to escape Epic in this dismal economy, then do so! If you are stuck at Epic, then just play the Epic game and secretly plot your escape. The best and the brightest are not promoted to Team Leaders because they think for themselves. And the occasional (rare) exceptional and independent-minded employees who do get promoted are fun to listen to behind closed doors - they know what they have gotten themselves into, but they are advancing their careers by playing the Epic game. Don't be fooled by the architecture, food, and dress code. Epic hires them and then has no problem firing them...beware. I have witnessed this too many times and I feel no job security at this place.

  4. As a person who is older than most Epic employees, and having a first telephone interview for Software Tester/Quality Assurance, what can you tell me about the position, and what advice do you have?

  5. Reading through this blog and others, it seems there are strong common themes; the company has a reputation for having a seemingly cult-like atmosphere, the management talking points appear to be very similar and standardized from the top down (robotic speak), the hours worked must keep increasing to continue receiving good employee reviews, thinking outside of the box is not particularly welcome by Team Leaders and higher-ups, a great employee review and bonus do not necessarily relate to job security, a lot of exceptional employees are regularly leaving the company whereas those promoted may not be the top notch employees, but rather employees who are Epic cheerleaders (the Team Leaders do not seem to be chosen for their strong leadership and management skills and are usually inexperienced for the role which leads to frustrated team members), those who are hired are told they are the smartest of the smart yet the turnover seems unusually high, along with many other, more job-specific common themes/complaints. Ms. Faulkner does not force anyone to work for her company and she is in charge, so as an employee you either accept it or move on. She feeds her employees well, most of whom are young and probably would not invest the time or money to eat so well, so she should be commended for that. Yet one common theme on these blogs baffles me. In this shaky economy, surely there are older experienced (but unemployed or under-employed) professionals who would willingly and enthusiastically work at Epic and bring their valuable life skills and professional knowledge with them to Epic. Why does Epic focus on hiring well-educated but inexperienced young college grads which causes a seemingly high turnover rate and a lot of stress and insecurity for those employed here? Team Leaders are a great example. Surely there are experienced professionals who would jump at the opportunity to be in a management role as a TL. Fiscally, it makes no sense to put so much money into elaborate hiring practices and extensive training only to have numerous young employees leave in less than a year or before two years (either leaving on their own or being "asked" to leave). A lot of fresh college grads eagerly relocate to the area for what they think is a secure job move only to be highly stressed by the (some think intentional) insecurity and stress of the unknown. Meanwhile, there have been so many NEW hires coming in that it is affecting parking and causing long lunch lines. How does any of this make sense? I think this is where a lot of the Epic frustration stems from when reading these blogs.

    1. New grads are easier to train into Epic's culture, less prone to saying 'no', and cost far less than experienced employees (see QA lawsuit).

      Experienced employees have some semblence of expectations of work/life balance, have other commitments outside of work (families, friends) that makes it harder to learn the tools or put in the time (60-100 hours per week), and follow many standard corporate practices that are unproductive or not useful at Epic.

  6. I understand your points, but on the flip-side, many successful and established corporations have adopted new business ideas, including the communal working floor or a co-working, collaborative open space as opposed to Epic's closed door office set-up where two employees share a traditional office. Perhaps if more experienced employees were hired by Epic and, for example, enthusiastically suggested proven methods for a more productive and positive work atmosphere, the suggestion could be taken as contrary to the Epic mindset. Experience should not be considered a negative! The lawsuit you reference applies to the majority of employees who have been there under five years just because that is the majority of employees who work at Epic. The lawsuit is not specific to experience and years worked at Epic. The typical former Epic employees tend to be young.

    1. ironically I remember being in an auditorium-type meeting early on with Epic where a picture of (supposedly) Cerner's office space was displayed on the theater wall. The goal was to point out the communal work-floor projected and mock the lack of "personal" offices. Apparently you cant get work done if you don't have an isolating box to work in. Who knew?!

      I had to share as I found it comical that your example of businesses adapting or shifting the culture/philosophy of the company was explicitly mocked at an internal meeting. Another example of drowning the inexperienced workers with Kool-aid. "you get to share an office! trust us this is better than any alternative work space! no seriously look at this picture and laugh with me. LAUGH WITH ME!"

  7. Lots of people get fired for having dissenting opinions. Even if the policy is weapons-grade stupid, if you voice your displeasure with it, you are likely gone.

  8. RE: The HIM comment

    HIM TS is a real horrorshow. A good friend of mine was part of that management group before they left a couple years ago, partly in disgust at what they saw behind a lot of management of Epic that was experienced on that team.

    There was a lot of frustration that key decision-makers had a real bloodlust for firing, and almost no capacity for training new people. It turned into a real Catch-22 where firings led to lots of new people, which led to more firings because their newness would show. The team spirit stank because the team members who stayed had to constantly pick up the slack, frequently for friends they didn't think got a fair shot to learn the job.

    When my friend noted once that the HIM TS team turnover was higher than that of the IS team (IS is always the highest turnover at Epic overall, because of the travel), it was almost looked at as a point of pride.

    It was something I saw a bit on my own as an IS from another application. We frequently had TS changes on our customer teams. Now that I've been in consulting for a while at a few different sites, and have seen some even more unfiltered customer assessments of various Epic teams, I've definitely seen this is not lost on customers. It's a running joke that their HIM TS is just a temporary conduit for some other app team that's going to answer their actual question. There have been exceptions to this, but they are rare.

  9. This principle came to be after I quit, and I found it quite hilarious after being shoehorned into a customer facing project I'm told still doesn't work more than a year later.

  10. The comments on this post resonated with me strongly, as I'm former HIM TS and the comments hit right on the mark. To be fair, Epic as a whole has a problem with management being increasingly out of touch with team members. Some teams have this problem harder than others, and HIM definitely had it more than any other experiences my friends and colleagues on other teams had.

    For us, it was pretty terrible. While I didn't have access to detailed statistics on the team's turnover, the assertion above that it was higher than the IS team doesn't sound unreasonable on the face of it. It was the result of a culture of fear. A lot of my colleagues when we were newer were warned off of asking for help from our managers, the result of a number of cautionary tales of people who sought help and had it looked upon as a signal of difficulty from the managers' perspective. Not all of the TLs were like this from my perspective, but I definitely felt that was a true danger on the part of some of the more senior leadership, many of whom weren't particularly helpful anyway if you did approach them. This happened to a good friend of mine who was struggling with a large number of customers right out of training. She didn't feel like she got much help when she asked, and was ultimately fired after her first year. Nobody thought she got treated fairly, or that the senior leaders on the team saw it as any responsibility of theirs to train the new people on the team. When a couple of the senior TLs had approached me to get me to stay, I wish I had the courage to say this directly, but the leadership of the team was also pretty highly placed in leadership across the TS division and I worried about burning bridges if I wanted to stay working in the field after leaving. Truth is fear's first casualty, I guess.

    I see the same dynamic now that I've been consulting with a number of customer sites. One client I worked with had a very experienced TSer working with them for years, someone I had a lot of respect for when I worked with him. Every other customer frequently had multiple changeovers, sometimes in only a 1-2 year timeframe. Always someone just out of training. Always someone they had to train themselves, since they were on their own on the team. At a couple of these sites the frustration about this is palpable. It's a problem on a number of applications across Epic, but I've been at a couple customer sites where HIM is specifically called out as the prime example of the problem. Despite my fond memories of many of the people I worked with on that team, less so the people I worked for, I can't dispute that impression.

    It's too bad. I did like Epic as a company, and there were other teams that had a better environment. I ultimately would have left in the 5-10 year timeframe, but it would have been a much harder decision if I'd been doing something else.

  11. It's been more than a year since Epic showed me the door but this was a thing for some time before I hit the bricks. It was a rocky relationship for months before the end so when this little gem turned up I was well past the point where I could laugh at it, quietly, to myself in the men's room with the door closed. "Dissent" just meant you could raise your hand to be told the many ways in which you were wrong both in practice and in principle, and "once decided" left out the minor detail that by the time decisions trickled down to the rank and file, they were already solidly "decided."

    I remember the staff meeting where one of the kool-aid addicts got up and told us all with a great big smile how there would be no more bonuses for getting additional certifications or for new hire referrals and that was so awesome because we all want to be awesome, right? And the crowd went wild. I remember getting to the point where I was pretty darned good at what I was assigned to test and troubleshoot (I was in QA), and getting a call one morning from my TL asking if I wanted to be jumped over to something completely different that ended up not going so well. But if I'd said "no, I think I would be better off where I am now" my "dissent" would have turned into "doesn't take opportunities" or something of the like at my next evaluation.

    Being an older new hire with a professional background I proved more resistant to the kool-aid than my fresh-outta-college co-workers and I could see the handwriting on the wall. I knew more than a few others who were either tremendously capable, experienced, or both, and washed out before I did. I'm getting off topic but the point is Epic wastes its human resources horribly.

    1. The certification bit is bullshit, Anon. The tone during that was at best strained silence since we knew a perk was being taken away.

  12. Regarding HIM: I'm recently former Epic TS (thankfully not HIM), and can't help but notice that the comments on this thread are fodder for what could be a whole new section on the worst application TS team. The comments about high turnover, burnout, distrust between TS and management, and all this dysfunction being apparent to customers are incredibly on-the-mark.

    I knew a few veterans on that team (there are very few veterans on that team) that were really strong, but the turnover mentioned is very real and hollowed out anything in between a handful of knowledgeable people and a vast base of first-year know-nothings.

    I feel bad calling them that because everybody had a first year, but it felt like the whole system on that application was designed to keep the majority of their team in that early stage of development. Just about every customer team I was on had a virtual nonentity as their HIM TS, got 2-3 new nonentities every year, and it was a boondoggle for the rest of us whenever something came up that they had to be called in for. It always ended up with us asking the questions, boiling customer questions down to bite-sized chunks, and maybe getting them to the point that they knew what to even ask to a developer. Maybe they'd get an answer, maybe they wouldn't. Who even knew?

    It seemed like an obvious problem to most of my friends on other teams, but as with many problems with Epic it goes completely unnoticed.