June 14, 2008

Reality used to be a friend of mine

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I was reminded recently that sometimes managers can wilfully ignore the reality that they work with humans rather than machines. Some examples from my past workplaces:

  • At a large well-known consultancy a manager used Microsoft Project to estimate the elapsed time of a project at 6 weeks. I thought that was impossible given the estimates for individual tasks in the project (which I had a part in determining). The manager assured me it was all fine because he just put the tasks into Project and that was the date that came out. I asked to see the Project data. It turned out that he had assumed that all people in the project would work on the project for 5 days a week, no holidays or time off. Problem was the project started on the 1st of December! He had ignored Christmas, New Years and all the holiday time that people had already booked. In the end the project was several weeks late according to the original finish date. However, after taking the holidays into account the project was on time, but the client thought we were hopeless anyway because even after pointing out his error the manager had still shown the client his original unrealistic date!
  • At a different firm it was generally accepted that a rota was required to fairly apportion weekend work. The manager would assign each weekend to a team member in turn. So who would do the first weekend, just a few days away? Well, the person who was currently out on holiday for the next couple of weeks of course!

And just to show it is not always the managers. I was doing a short, tactical project for a couple of financial markets’ traders (consider them very important users). One Monday I deliver the project and they are immediately unhappy – “unworkable and obviously wrong” they say. I return to my desk and work on their fixes. On Tuesday I give them the next version – “what are you thinking, worse than before” they say. I sit down with them and they give me a 10 minute lecture on how they see it working. I leave with a good understanding of what they want. For Wednesday’s version they say, “perfect, why couldn’t you do this the first time”. Only thing was I just gave them Monday’s version again!

Of course my lips are sealed on my stupid mistakes.


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