While performing my New Year’s resolutions of reviewing 30 years worth of my files – including a file called – “humor and interesting information”, I found this. It has been around for a long while. But now I have updated it and I dedicate the concept to all my fellow consultants and colleagues involved with implementing an HRMS or any other applications. I hope you enjoy, Marc.


Does the expression “we’ve always done it that way!” ring any bells? To any one involved with implementing any new technology – it certainly voices a major resistance to change attitude. An attitude or belief that often requires effective skills to overcome. Change Management is always a key and most critical component of for a successful implementation of any new HRMS or any software solution – any application, for any industry for that matter.

And the comment “we’ve always done it that way” is a comment that, believe it or not, can be attributed to ancient times!


Here’s one piece of true history that can be considered the “justification” for system users, or your clients, or your project’s subject matter experts, etc. thinking and saying that annoying (to every project manger, team leader ) and potentially road blocking phrase – “We’ve always done it that way!” Speaking of “roads” lets explore why this attribution to ancient times seems feasible.

Lets start in today’s world.

If you have taken any Amtrak train anywhere in the United States, – ever, did you realize that from the existence of railways, the distance between the rails (called the “gauge”) is a very unexpected and odd number. It is 4 feet 8.5 inches. Exceedingly odd, isn’t it ? Why that number? and not, say 5 feet? or 4 feet 6 inches? Because that is the way railroads were built them in England and it was the English expatriates who built the US railroads . Why did the English build them like that?

Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways. That is what they knew how to do, and they kept those specifications. That was the separation distance between the two rails – that distance – that gauge – for centuries, so why change?. Why did “they” use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramsways use the same approach and tools that they used for building wagons for many years, which used the same wheel spacing. It was their “comfort zone” and their active experience and thus, mindset.

So, Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing? Well if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old long distance roads that were prevalent in England. Why did they break? Because of the spacing of the lines of wheel ruts that are long ago embedded in the roads of England. Any uneven fit would pressure the wooden wheels and they would break.

So who built those old rutted roads? Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe and England for their legions. Their roads have been used ever since.

And the ruts in the roads? Where did they come from? Well, Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts. Thus, everyone else had to match the spacing for fear of destroying their wagon wheels. Since the chariots were made for (or by) Imperial Rome, they decreed that all similar horse drawn vehicles must have the same wheel spacing. And that spacing was precisely 4feet, 8 and one half inches. Why?

Because the Imperial Roman war chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the back ends of two war-horses!

The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet , 8.5 inches is derived from the original specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot!

So, you see, some specifications and bureaucracies live forever!

So the next time in your role as Consultant, Analyst or Team or Project Lead you are handed a specification and wonder what “horses ass came up with this?’ You may be exactly right!

Now a bit of the twist to the story, to more modern times.

Remember our now defunct Space Shuttle Program? When the space shuttle program was active, the shuttle vehicle itself sat on top of two gigantic booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters or SRBs – The company, Thiokol makes the SRBs at their factory in Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs might have preferred to make them a bit larger, (wider), but the SRBs had to shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory to the launch site happens to run through a tunnel in the Rocky Mountains. The SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is carved out to accommodate the anticipated railroad tracks and thus, were made to be just a bit larger in width than the standard; but as wide as two full grown horses behinds.

So, to sum up, a major design feature of what is arguably the World’s most advanced transportation system, was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of two horse’s asses.

It is no wonder that people want to stick to old outdated ways of doing things.

They may have inherited their attitude – which has been deepened by centuries of specifications. All this “history” and interesting and somewhat fact based theories makes the case for change management even more difficult.

Especially if many of the constituents you are trying to change – in your mind – have behaved like, well, a horse’s ….. behind.

At least, now you know why.

The end. (no pun intended)

Marc Miller

January 2015