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A New Project Methodology!

August 9, 2013

I’m no Project Management Professional (PMP), but I have learned a fair amount about project management in my career.  I’ve actually had a few training classes in general project management as well as a specific project methodology.  I’ve also learned the differences between waterfall, lean, and agile.  But in my new job, I believed that I have discovered a brand new project methodology at my place of employment and I can’t wait to share it with everyone.

For my non-technical friends, project management is taking a large task (like developing a new system, or it could be building a house), breaking it into the stages, breaking the stages into tasks, figuring out the resources that are available, figuring how long it takes each resource to complete  a specific task, and putting that all together to tell you how long it will take to do the big task.  You have three variables that you can use to change the project: Quality (this would be a combination of the quality of work to be done and even the scope of the work), Resources (people and money), or Time.  A common adage in project management is that for any given project, you can only favorable control two of the variables at once.  For instance, if you want something done well in a very short time frame, you have to throw lots of resources at it (people and/or money).  If you want it cheap, but good quality, it will take a long time.  

But I’m proud to say that my place of employment (that shall remain nameless) has a groundbreaking approach to this dilemma.  Allow me to present the Reality Free Project Management Methodology (RFPMM). Let me explain how this works:

1) Take a major task that would be considered a project

2) Pick a manager who will manage the project

3) The manager picks the completion date

4) The manager assign resources – as a rule, no more than two people should work on this, even though others might be available.

5) Expect it to be done by target date.

The advantages to this are many – you don’t have to worry about pesky things like figuring out what tasks make up this project, how long it takes to do the task, whether you have enough resources, communicating plans and task schedules to the people doing the work  You just pick the date you want it done and the resources have to get it done by that time.

In all seriousness, this is how major (and even not quite so major) tasks are planned at my company.  Yesterday, my supervisor asked me to come up with a plan to convert a system built in one language to another…in two months.  By myself.  And probably while I also have to contribute to another important (but not as big task) as well as two major projects. On a monthly basis, tasks are assigned to developers for the fixed date release and there better have been an apocalypse to excuse not having your tasks completed for the release (even if assigned to you two days before release day).  

But there’s the beauty of RFPMM – it doesn’t matter.  You have a task and a due date. You can control all three project management variables because…reality doesn’t apply.

Hmmm…I wonder if I could patent this and then charge my company for violating my business process patent….

Say What You Mean, Damn It!

September 15, 2011

“You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” – Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

I guess I’m slowly becoming a grumpy old man, but one thing that really bothers me is when words are used to denote a meaning that really doesn’t mean what the person has intends it to mean.

Case in point:  The other day, I got a message about a list of web classes  at my day job.  One of them caught my eye: “The Attitude of Servitude”.  Huh?  Did they really mean that?  Are they really trying to get us to think like indentured servants?  Thinking that maybe my grasp of English vocabulary wasn’t what it used to be, I looked up servitude:
  • a condition in which one lacks liberty especially to determine one’s course of action or way of life
  • a right by which something (as a piece of land) owned by one person is subject to a specified use or enjoyment by another
Merriam Webster Online Dictionary

Who’s ready to sign up for this class?  Sorry, not me!

Suspecting that this wasn’t really what they wanted to teach, I did a Google search and I think I found the course description:

“… provides insights into building customer relationships through service. Customer service insights include: Seeking personal excellence; Intense customer focus; and Win-win spirit. This course will help you differentiate your organization from your competitors by following the outlined concepts.”

I suspect that the person who created this course was trying to be clever. Change the word service to rhyme with attitude and it sounds great… The Attitude of Servitude…except for people with  a vocabulary.  I’m sorry, I really don’t want to have the attitude that I have no liberty to determine my own course in life.  What’s the follow-on class…Smile and Be Servile?

In the corporate world, it happens constantly.  It makes me just grit my teeth and mutter under my breath. People constantly make up words out of existing words to try to make themselves sound smarter.  It’s like in high school when you have to write a 500 word essay and you made up variations of the same sentence so you could make the word quota.

But if I hear any sentences like “We need to incentivize people to be proactive in synergizing their learnings to create a new paradigm”, I think I might scream. How about just saying “We need to find a way to get people to come up with new ideas”?

The point of language is to convey thoughts and ideas to another person.  You know, communicate! When people start trying to make their language sound more intelligent by making up words or torturing existing meanings, they are not acting intelligently. They are not communicating; they are just attempting to show off.  I suppose nothing can be done about this because corporate speak and its ilk will be there so that someone can spend five minutes talking and not really communicate anything.  It’s a good PR strategy – talk for a while without really saying anything definite.

But my mission and my new mantra is “Keeping Things Simple”.  That doesn’t mean using simple words all of the time.  There something to be said about using one bigger word in the place of numerous smaller words.  But the point of communication needs to be about conveying the idea, not seeing how many words you can use.  We’re not in high school anymore – we aren’t graded on word count! (although at this point I’m at roughly 590.)

I Once Was Lost, But Now I’m Found…

April 17, 2010

After a long silence, I’m back…in more ways than one.  I’m happy to report I’ve been gainfully employed for almost three  months now.  And I’m back to programming on my own project…and writing a blog.

Why the silence?  You would think that while I was unemployed, I’d have a lot of time to write.  And that’s true.  But as the title of this blog implies, I was lost.  I couldn’t focus on anything.

Anatomy of My Unemployment

After the initial depression and rage of being involuntarily separated, I settled into a somewhat productive rhythm where I looked for jobs, did some programming on my project, and took care of my son over the summer and doing a lot of cooking.  And all was well…OK, all was at least not totally sucky.

Soon the summer faded into autumn and I still was no closer to employment than I was the day I was let go.   By September I had only had one interview.  But not many rejections…because a rejection letter would imply that you would actually receive a response.  And a job that I had previously applied for re-opened at a local company and I re-applied.

And…nothing.  I did get a second interview and was promised a response within a week….And nothing….three weeks of calls and email to company netted….an email that they wouldn’t be extending an offer.  I had other interviews and never heard another word from all but one of the companies. 

Autumn became winter and again, I had no more prospects than on the day I was escorted out.  And the winter weather drove me inside and one of my only outlets, running, was shut off.  And more emails and calls…and no response. 

And Then a Ray of Hope

Then an interview….and then a programming assessment test (that told me I wasn’t a great programmer), then a second interview and almost 7 months from the day I was involuntarily separated, I started a new job.

The Emotional Toll of Unemployment on My Psyche

Months of being ignored made me feel more and more worthless.  Each unreturned call or email was another chip out of  my confidence.   I could make no plans and had no plans.  I had no schedule other than getting my son up for school and being here when he finished.

And as a result, I couldn’t focus.  I’d sit in front of the computer to program or write…and…nothing.  I’d mess around on Facebook or play games or go play on the Wii.

 What I Learned from This Ordeal

  • I (apparently) am a more structured person than I thought I was  – I’ve always thought I was more of a random person, but apparently I need structure.  I had no schedule or anything to frame my day. And I got nothing done.  Since returning to the nicely structured world of 9:00 – 5:00, I am able to get more accomplished in less time because I think I know I only have x minutes to do something, so I focus and do it.
  • “I’m good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like me” – I guess I needed Stuart Smalley with me during the dark days of my unemployment.  In my new job, I’ve been able to jump in and be really useful – in fact, coming up with a solution for a problem that the vendor hadn’t figured out yet. Self confidence certainly takes a beating when you’re unemployed and it’s hard to remember that you are as good as you think you are.  See this excellent article by Pamela Slim.
  • Working as part of a team sure beats the lone wolf approach – In my new position, I’m part of a group supporting a couple of systems and we are part of a bigger team supporting a whole line of systems.  And I like it!  Although we’re dealing with the challenge of coordinating changes and activities, it’s a refreshing change from having to do everything yourself!  For most of my career, I’ve been the only person working on a project or, in the case of my previous employer, the only IT person responsible for all of the systems.  Having a much smaller, focused scope of work is…refreshing.

Mike Has Found His Groove

I feel like I’m finally getting back in the groove.  I realized that despite being ignored, rejected, and told that I’m not a good programmer, I AM a decent programmer.  Maybe I’ll never build truly amazing, transformational software, but I’m a decent developer.  I have the desire and stubbornness to not give up on problems.  I may be a bit of a jack of all trades, but it continues to serve me well. 

So, I’m back and I’m getting back to development and blogging. 

I am geek, hear me roar!!!

I Fought The Law…

May 4, 2009

Well, I did it. I talked to my manager today about how unhappy I am in my job, particularly about the lack of training. Before I tell you how it went, a boring digression: 

One thing I neglected to mention in my previous post is the gradual erosion of IT resources since I joined almost five years ago.  Towards the end of my first year, my manager (who also did IT project work ) left the company…and they didn’t rehire anyone to fill the role in IT.  I’m sure the headcount where somewhere, but I don’t know for sure.  Then, three years ago, my co-worker was outsourced to another company.  He’s now responsible for the PC’s, servers, and network (for which he was already the primary support person) and I inherited about 40 % of his job (and got rid of precious little).  So I now have the work of two people.    Then, to top it off, I have now been asked to answer any PC related questions if someone calls/pages me instead of calling the Help Desk (that we pay for with each PC).

Not getting my training and hearing that someone else was approved for elective training made me blow my stack last Friday.  Fortunately, I didn’t talk to my boss because I was VERY angry.  So after committing myself to do it in the blog last night, I had the discussion with my manager today.  I let him know I was very upset about what I found out on Friday and said that as a result, I felt like what I do must not be valued and that I felt set up for failure (I had said this to him over a year and a half ago).  He dismissed how I felt, but miraculously, the money has been approved.  I don’t have the actual training yet because I’m having problems getting hold of the vendor (curse you companies that refuse to put phone numbers on your websites!  People still need to TALK sometimes!), but it’s going to happen.

I feel a little better because it’s off my chest and I’m finally getting the training.  But a part of me knows that nothing else is going to happen and I’m still going to feel unvalued and set up for failure.  I was thinking today that if I was a manager and one of my reports came to my office and said what I said, I would be floored and try to move heaven and earth to get to the bottom of what’s happening.  I’m making a vow that if I ever am successful enough to have my own company (because I’m sure not getting  a promotion here), that I would listen to my employees and at least consider how they feel.  If someone is that unhappy, something is seriously dysfunctional…which is a good description for how things are.  I’m sure this will come back to haunt me in my performance review, but I had a very small win today.

Sometimes, that’s all you can expect…

When The Going Gets Tough…

May 4, 2009

As I have mentioned before, I have a full time day job. I’m the IT person for a manufacturing plant. I’m not responsible for the PC’s, servers, and network, but everything else is my responsibility. Part of that includes our ERP system…not SAP. It’s a smallish ERP system made for our industry type and it’s built on the Progress database engine. I know SQL and Progress is most definitely NOT SQL in it’s native setup.

Since I got assigned responsibility for this application two years ago, I have been asking for training in Progress. There are no books you can read (at least I can’t find any), your only choice is a training class or a web class. Either way, you have to pay.

Last year, I wasn’t allowed to go because I was working on a critical project..so critical, it was cancelled a month later. When the next Progress courses were offered, I couldn’t go because of a travel freeze – although others continued to go. I asked about getting the web classes since that wouldn’t require travel and…nothing happened.

So I ask AGAIN, this time for web only. I get the OK, but there doesn’t seem to be any money now. However, someone else in my group (non IT) talked to the Plant Manager and will be going for not one, but two ELECTIVE classes.

So what do you do?
a) Pretend you don’t know and don’t make any waves. The economy is bad – you want to keep your job.

b) Layout your feelings and try to understand the seeming illogic behind it.

c) Rant and rave and make a big stink.

I’m planning to try to to avoid C)  – although I have to tell you that on Friday, I might very well have done that. I avoided my manager because I was afraid that if I said anything, I might regret it.

Tomorrow though I have to address this. It feels to me like IT has no value whatsoever to the organization based on what has happened in terms of resources and assignments. This just seemed to confirm that to me. I’m going to stand up for myself and tell them how I feel. I’m not sure it’s going to do any good (and if pass performance holds true, this will come up in a negative way in my performance review), but to quote R.E.O. Speedwagon, “I can’t fight this feeling any longer”.

Look, I knew that IT would never be REALLY important to the manufacturing plant, but I figured wouldn’t be least important. I don’t know how this is going to play out, but I’ll keep you posted. Wish me luck when I talk to my manager on Monday…