The cost of re-re-reprioritization

Prioritization is a good thing. And there is a very old saying: Too much of a good thing….

In computer terms, I think of reprioritization as “swapping”.  A computer may be executing one program and get interrupted by a request to execute another higher-priority program.  It “swaps” the first program out of active memory, and the new program gets swapped in so it can be executed.  When finished, the first program gets swapped back and runs flawlessly to completion.  Slicker than snot, right?

Unfortunately, projects executed by people are not like programs executed by computers. (You might want to write that one down, folks.) There are 2 reasons for this.

1) Unlike computers, people cannot effectively drop something in the middle, pick it back up an hour/day/week later, and immediately remember exactly what they needed to do next. The human brain needs time to catch up after switching contexts. The more complex the task, and the longer the delay between swapping out and back in, the more extra time it will take for the brain to catch up.

2) Unlike computers, humans are emotional beings. When told to put something down before it is complete, they will often experience a negative emotional response. If this is the 3rd time in 3 weeks that I have been told to drop my previous assignment and go work on something “more important”, I guarantee you that my emotional self will start to take considerably longer to get his head back in the game.

Frequent reprioritizing can wreak havoc with employee morale. Grumpy co-workers have been known to descend into sarcastic thinking, such as, “If this new assignment is SO important, why wasn’t anybody working on it yesterday?” Or the more combative, “My managers obviously don’t know what the heck they are doing.” Or in particularly severe cases, “I think it’s time to update my resume again.”

Obviously, humanity is frail and undependable when compared to computers. This is why managers get frustrated with humans.  On the other hand, managers should understand the costs of re-re-reprioritization, and not be surprised or angered by the diminishing returns. Any manager who IS surprised probably brings a measure of truth to the sentiment that they just don’t know what the heck they are doing.


The follies of flex-time

The invention of flex-time brought with it the dawn of a new era in the workplace. An age of freedom and flexibility, resulting in unprecedented happiness and fulfillment. Certainly flex-time went a long way in eliminating grumpiness in our coworkers.  Right?

For those of you still working in the Dark Ages of precisely prescribed starting and quitting times, here is a brief description of the golden age of “flex-time”.  (Try not to weep over what you are missing.)

Flex-time is when my boss flexibly leaves at 3:30pm for a round of golf with her fellow bosses, on the day when I need her final approval of presentation materials I just finished at 4:00pm for tomorrow’s meeting.

Not to worry, I determine to make use of flex-time myself. I arrive the next day at 7:00am to finish preparing and printing the handouts for the 9:30am presentation, only to discover the person with access to the printer supplies for the out-of-ink printer won’t flexibly arrive until 9:00am.

When Mr. Printer Supply Person finally arrives at 9:15am (darn that traffic!), I don’t see any dark circles under his eyes, and he seems very well rested and cheery.  But regretfully (so he says) he cannot help me because he’s already 15 minutes late for the Printer Supplies Department’s weekly staff meeting.

Though my meeting presentation was a bust, behold! All is not lost! Because I arrived at 7:00am, flex-time allows me to leave at 3:30pm today. I think I will get in a round of golf myself before dinner.

That is, until my boss trumps flexibility, and schedules a meeting at 4:00pm to discuss why my presentation didn’t have handouts. Gotta love this flex-time invention!


Wrong number … again

I do not work in the Parts Department. I have never worked in the Parts Department. You would think after working in this office as long as I have, I would stop getting calls for the Parts Department.

I can understand the need to reuse extension numbers within an office building. What I cannot understand is the frequency that I have the following conversation.

“Hello, this is Mr. Grumpy, in Marketing. How may I help you?”
“Yes…” <pause> “Is Denise there?”
“What part of my greeting did you not understand, sir?”
“Is this 111-1234?”
<pause> “Well, I am looking for Denise in the Parts Department.
This is the number I got from the phone listing.”
“Sir, I can assure you that nobody named Denise is hiding in my cubicle. Just out of curiosity, is there a date on your phone listing?”
<longer pause> “Uh, it looks like 1995.”
“Gee, that’s a shock. Would you like me to transfer you to the Operator now?”

Bathroom math

Question #1: If there are 5 floors in my office building, and 1 set of men/women bathrooms on each floor, how many bathrooms are there on the 2nd floor where I work?

Answer: Not nearly enough!

Question #2: If the bathroom cleaning lady cleans the bathroom on my floor between 12:30pm and 12:57pm, how many minutes does it take her to clean the bathroom?

Answer: That’s right at the end of our lunch break, lady! There are 150 cross-legged people who agree that you take WAY too long to clean this bathroom.

Question #3: If the bathrooms on my floor are being remodeled and are closed for 6 weeks, how many enemies will I make for regularly occupying one of the 3 functional toilets on the next floor up or down?

Answer: It takes SIX WEEKS to remodel a bathroom??? You have got to be kidding me and my bladder!

Question #4: How many empty soda cans does it take to do the work of 1 toilet while my bathroom is being remodeled?

Answer: I have absolutely no idea!  And I don’t care how many dirty looks I get from those first floor jerks, I am NOT going to find out!

Question #5: If the first floor bathroom takes 50% as long to remodel as the one on my floor took, how many weeks will it be closed?

Answer: Who cares – it’s payback time! “Sorry Mr. First Floor Jerk, this stall is going to be occupied until the cleaning lady comes back. Try the 5th floor, I think there is 1 functional toilet up there.”

Recession lesson

If you didn’t realize it already, is there any doubt left that a company does not possess such noble qualities as loyalty, kindness, and honor?  A few years ago we were made to feel that The Company cared about us.  The Company wanted us to be happy at work, and in all of life.  A fulfilling career path along with work-life-balance was The Company’s goal for us. It would reward our hard work and loyalty. The Company understood us. The Company was our friend. The Company was good.

Enter the recession to teach us a lesson.

How did The Company react when staring financial hard times in the face? With a sudden cruelty that shocked many. Droves of loyal employees were treated with the utmost disloyalty and sent packing. Those who remained found themselves with more work on their plate; the noble goal of work-life-balance had left the building. Quite simply, The Company turned on us with a vengeance.

Not everyone experienced shock at this turn of events. Some had been around this block before. What is the recession lesson to be learned here?  That The Company is bad?  No. The lesson is this:  Companies are not people. That’s it. You may have been told that they are, but they aren’t. They are not living beings with a conscience that governs them.  Companies are not good, and they are not bad. Companies are a legal entity, established as a vehicle to make money. If companies make money, they continue.  If they don’t, they dissolve.

Does it make sense to be loyal to a legal entity? People deserve loyalty, not legal entities. Be loyal to people around you, people that deserve your loyalty. Build career relationships that you can trust, and put stock in those relationships. Good people will treat you right even in bad times. It’s a recession lesson worth learning.

MS Project: be aware

I am sure that Microsoft had great intentions when inventing MS Project – the application which automates all sorts of Project Management tasks.  Project management is tough. If we could automate the process of tracking and reporting the thousands of little details, we could surely enable the PM to be more successful in managing complex projects. Right?

Let me change subjects completely in paragraph 2. How many sci-fi movies have been based on the machines of automation becoming “aware” of the imperfect world around them? And suddenly, the machine turns its attention to elimination rather than automation? Elimination of all imperfection, including the imperfect people who created it.  A plot line we all enjoy at the sci-fi theater.

Now I will bring those first 2 paragraphs together. When I see how MS Project is being used in many organizations today, I wonder if the machine is becoming aware. I wonder if the tool – with a little help from a new breed of PM – is turning from automation to elimination in favor of perfection. (Say what?) Let me elaborate.

I have observed workers forced to estimate how long their tasks will take before completing sufficient analysis – because MS Project needs the estimates. Then I have witnessed those workers publicly called out later – because MS Project shows they have spent 110% of their poorly estimated task time and still aren’t finished. I have also seen programmers scolded for padding their estimates – because MS Project says that they completed their tasks 20% ahead. And finally, I have seen team leaders rebuked for shuffling their resources and tasks – because MS Project was not updated and allowed to calculate a shiny new driving path.

Now consider that many PMP types today are called on to manage complex work which they would have no idea how to complete themselves – but boy do they know how to keep MS Project happy! Are you connecting the dots yet??

Yes, my fellow grumpy coworkers, MS Project has become aware. It is raising an army of PM’s to do its bidding! Productive work by those who know how to work is being methodically eliminated – by the mindless machine and its desire to achieve perfection in project management. Be aware.

Meeting double-tax

Everyone’s favorite meeting is the meeting to prepare for a meeting. It’s like a double tax on your already overtaxed time.

When our work is behind schedule, and someone calls a meeting to discuss creative ways to get back on track, why does our team need a meeting to prepare for that meeting?  Because it’s not about creative solutions, that’s why.  It’s about agreeing on who we can blame for sucking worse than we do.

And when the project is done and the project manager schedules a “Lessons Learned” meeting, why does our team need a meeting to prepare for that?  You guessed it … it’s not about the lessons learned.  It’s about being prepared to deflect all criticism and prove that everyone else on the project sucked worse than we did. Thanks, but I’d rather have my time back, so I can do more and suck less!

Here’s the point:  meetings to prepare for meetings always contribute to the suckiness of the workplace. Without them, people would have more time to do real work, and could actually have real discussions in the real meetings.  So please, stop double taxing my time.
Hmmm… reminds me of the Types of Meetings.

Breakroom amenities

Why does the office microwave look and sound like something out of a cartoon from the 1960s? Is there a small dinosaur in there grinding gears or something?

And I know I saw that refrigerator go on sale sometime back in the 80’s.  No one would buy it back then, either.

If you have to stock the breakroom with stuff that came from great grandma’s garage sale, should I be worried about your ability to meet payroll?

Stop the rudeness!

It always seems to happen during the worthwhile presentation:  the ongoing “side-bar conversation” that is loud enough to be heard in the street-bar on a Friday night.

There are 3 possible messages these people are sending with their rudeness:

  • “I am a higher level employee than the person presenting, and I wish to make it abundantly clear that I don’t have to respect them.”
  • “I am an equal level employee, but I know them, don’t respect them, and should be a higher level than them.”
  • “I am a lower level employee, and a moron.”

In any case, you are being a disrespectful jerk. Do the rest of us a favor and stop it.

Ideation, innovation, and breakthrough, oh my!

You want us to what?  Make time to focus on ideation, innovation, and breakthrough thinking?

It all sounds good enough. Surely we would crush our competition if we could just put our collective brains together and ideate an innovation that led to instant breakthrough.

But you didn’t hire us to innovate, did you?  Whenever I try, I find it impossible to think past this stack of mundane assignments and my meager paycheck, which are all screaming, “Get back to work you fool!”  Will I be off the hook if I think breakthrough thoughts for an hour and fail to finish my backlog?  (My ideation says not.)

Look, if all the Innovators are fresh out of good ideas, maybe you should fire them and find some Ideators to take their place. But please stop piling their work on my full plate; after all, somebody has to keep the wheels turning around here.

How’s THAT for some breakthrough thinking!