Sunday, May 13, 2007

Choices and Mistakes

We're in the middle of a very challenging project. We lost our developer early on and it took nearly two months for another one to be found. None the less, the client (an internal client) insisted we stick to the original date -- esentially compressing 5 months of work to 12 weeks.

I put a more junior level analyst at the helm of this project for several reasons:
1. I wanted her to have a chance to test software with requirements;
2. I wanted her to have a chance to show whether she could see the big picture;
3. She asked for this assignment because she knew all angles of the software that will be used in conjunction with the new software.

But it was a mistake. She ended up needing to be gone during the middle of the project; she's unable to see the big picture; she is unable to keep her fears of the projects' weaknesses from the client (causing the client to panic) and when she shares her issues with the project, she does so without offering solutions; and she's unable and unwilling to work around the requirement inadaquacies without complaining about it to the client.

All of these things have caused me to come into the project, pull in another contractor to write test cases, test, and be present with the client, and I'm managing the client and the testing effort.

What have I learned from this?
1. This particular employee cannot be considered for a senior position anytime in the near future.
2. I will remember listen to my gut. My original thought was to NOT put her on this project, but I over ruled it because I thought there was potential there.

There are other issues in this situation, too. The client is very very micromanaging the testing effort. Every meeting she wants to have she includes my boss which frustrates the he!! out of me.

I have a hard time being up front with her and so the communication is a big deal.

So there are other lessons in this project for me to learn.



Friday afternoon one of my direct reports and I were in a meeting. We came out of the meeting and she said to me, "ummm I don't feel well... I kinda can't get a deep breath" and then she laughed.... I suggested, as she looked pretty good, that she go sit down, have a glass of water and see if that helped.

A few minutes later she was at my office door and she was ghostly white. Cath was with her -- asking whether or not she could drive her to the emergency room.

I reached over to the phone and dialed for the operator and asked them to call for emergency help. First responders -- first aid trained employees -- were on site in a heartbeat and we made our way down stairs to await assistance. The ambulance came shortly after the police arrived and my employee was whisked into the ambulance. They checked her out thoroughly before slowly pulling out of the drive and heading for the hospital.

Everything went as planned -- smooth as clockwork from the moment i called the main desk. Why didn't I take her seriously at first? Why was I not engaged with this woman? Hmmmmm

Friday, March 23, 2007

But I wanna go, too!

Sometimes being a manager really sucks. Yesterday one of my employees' bands played in a local pub. This morning a group of people were talking about having been to see them. And I felt left out.

Now I've NEVER been one to socialize a great deal with my co-workers. I can chit-chat about work well enough, but I don't do small talk particularly well so non-work socializing pretty much has always been limited to lunchtime or a quick drink after work. So it's not that I would have gone even if I'd been invited. But it sounded like such a nice time, and I was sorry I'd missed it.

How do other managers handle hanging out socially with their employees or their employees' co-workers?

Monday, December 04, 2006

New Hires

I had a new employee start today.

I started preparing for her shortly after we made an offer.

We have a checklist for new hires that includes things like:
  • Identify a cube

  • Have hardware set up

  • Identify a mentor

  • And I create a training plan.

    For Sam, his new hire training plan consists of meeting with his work leader to figure out the skills he'll need to succeed at testing their product. But for others - employees who don't have a work leader or for whom I'm the work leader - I have to create a complete training plan.

    I used to be a teacher (back in the olden days) and I had to create lesson plans for each of my one hour classes. A training plan is very similar to a lesson plan. You start with objectives. "Sam will be able to set up a client in our test environment." It's measurable - he can either do it or he can't, but it's not time boxed. Do we want Sam to be able to do this on his second day at work? How long should this take him to do? To learn?

    I find it hard, even as a former teacher, to think like that so, when I have to come up with a training plan, I tend to use a form for each sizable chunk of work. The form asks the following questions:

  • What should the trainee learn?

  • When will they learn it?

  • How long will it take to learn?

  • Who is their mentor / teacher for this task?

  • Is there a clear connection for this task to his job as he understands it?

  • How will I know he's successful?

  • How will he know he's successful?

  • This helps me think about the supporting things like a login or access to another system that might be necessary.

    Do your training plans differ for each trainee? How can I make my plans better?

    Sunday, December 03, 2006

    When employees screw up....

    My partner and I contracted with our favorite construction company to tile our bathroom while we were away. Now there are five of us - when we have the kids - and only one bath so having it done while we all were away was critical.

    She chose the tile while I was away and it was to be ordered and delivered on Monday according the 'tile guy' at the store. He took our money and promised that he wouldn't run the batch until the tile was ordered and confirmed.

    Imagine our surprise when we checked our account that evening and saw that the funds had already been removed! We figured that he had simply forgotten to confirm that the tile would be delivered as expected....

    The next day he, I'll call him Jason, called and said that the tile hadn't made it on the truck and wouldn't be available until Wednesday of the week we were to be away. this would give our contractor only 2 days to tile the bath surround and floor. Our contractor assured us that he'd make it work for us.

    Then Jason called again and said that he was wrong, the tile we had ordered wouldn't be available until sometime in december. It was just the contrasting tile, however, so we chose another trim. This resulted in a substantial refund because the new trim was less expensive.

    We left for our vacation and assumed that all would be well. But it was not to be. Jason, it seemed, had not ordered enough floor tile. Our contractor let him know on Wednesday - shortly after picking up the order. The contractor called Jason at least once more on Friday.

    Jason called us on Saturday as we were on our way home. He took complete responsibility for the snafu and assured us he'd get the tile to us the following Wednesday. We'd planned a trip the following weekend to visit the kids in Kansas, so it was going to work out.

    Monday afternoon Jason called and said "I can't order this tile without payment, you know." We were flabbergast. We thought he'd ordered the tile already. As he hadn't, it wouldn't be on the Wedneday truck, it would need to wait for the following Monday.

    If I'd been Jason's manager, I would have stepped in at this point. I would have assured the client that the error was in hand, the tile had been ordered, and that we (the flooring company) would do whatever was necessary to make installation work for us and our contractor.

    Instead, Jason continued to flounder, refusing to offer to compensate us for our night(s) in a hotel. He maintained that a good contractor could get the toilet pulled, the tile laid, grouted and sealed with in one 8 hour day.

    We've pushed back and are ready to do what we need to to get our tile installed. What would you have done if you'd been Jason's manager?

    Saturday, December 02, 2006

    Rewarding Employees - when the company does well.

    My friend, Jane, works for a start up company. She's the manager of their small IT department - she's got about 8 direct reports and also heads up their project office. She's been with the company since it started six years ago. Last year, for the first time ever, they made a profit. This year, with sales through the roof, they crossed a revenue threshold that they thought was still three years out.

    To celebrate they catered a lunch for all employees (about 150 - 180 people) and gave away about 60 "nice" prizes -- everything from iPods to $10 gas cards. They also invited the management team to a country club cocktail hour and gave them all a gorgeous silver clock.

    Jane was thrilled that everyone in the company was able to celebrate.

    She's now in the midst of salary planning for 2007. She wants to reward her employees for their hard work, but find that her budget for salaries has been restricted to 3% overall.

    She's very frustrated by this as she feels the company is going to suffer when people, who have indeed worked their 'guts out' (as she puts it) get a raise that just covers the cost of living.

    What would you do in Jane's situation?

    Wednesday, August 02, 2006

    Rewarding employees - it's not just about the money

    I recently had a couple of opportunities to reward a couple of my stand out employees. Kay (name change to protect the innocent) has been a leader on her software testing team for over a year. She's very, very talented and knowledgable. She's the kind of employee who will sit quietly in a meeting until you make a bad assumption and then she'll correct you AND give you reminders (and bug id numbers) to back her information up. Just the kind of person you want to work on a mission critical highly volital (sp) piece of software. Anyway I digress.

    Our company does trade shows a few times each year. Usually it's just the marketing and operations crowd that goes out and does the set up. But lately they've been taking volunteers from other parts of the company. When they asked at the last management meeting if we had anyone we could send I jumped at the chance to send Kay. The show was on the west coast so she'd be out of town, and she'd get to do something totally different than her day-in-day out routine stuff.

    Why this is a reward: you would think that maybe sending someone off to do a trade show -- where they work constantly for five days in a city where they'll get to see not only the hotel, but the route to and from the airport (and that's about all) isn't much of a reward, but you would be wrong. Particularly for Kay. Kay works on mission critical software and she knows it very well. But she doesn't get to see this stuff in action very often. Going to the trade show gave her an opportunity to meet the users and to think about the user experience in a way she hadn't done before. Plus she got five new work-logo shirts for free, plus she got to keep her frequent flyer miles... Her conference was just last week. When she got into the office this week, we met for our 1-on-1 where she thanked me for the opportunity. It was so rewarding (for ME) to hear how much she'd learned and how much she enjoyed getting to know more of the folks from operations. I know I'll get feed-back from the operations folks and I look foward to hearing how much they enjoyed having HER expertise on their side.

    Then there is Charlie. Charlie started with our organization long before I did. He started as an intern assisting with testing while attending college. When he graduated, we offered him a full-time permanent position. He's been working full time for about two years now and has made significant contributions to his team. He constantly receives high praise from those who know his work.

    Last week we had customers in the office. One of the senior managers in operations called and asked if we had anyone who could show these customers one of our pieces of software with an emphasis on security. Now normally I would ask Kay (see above) or Charlie's team lead to do this sort of thing. The sr. manager knows both of them well and is very comfortable with their expertise. But both Kay and Jill were out. So I said to Deb, "I'm going to leave you in expert hands. Charlie will do the demo and he'll be able to answer any questions you or the clients have." And I went off to talk to Charlie.

    Charlie's up to his neck in work that was due yesterday (of course) and is still somewhat buggy. Still, he jumped at a chance to talk to others about his work and the work of the software that they had asked to preview. Charlie needed to spend about an hour preparing and about a 1/2 delivering the demonstration.

    Why this is a reward. Charlie is a very sharp guy. He's young, smart, and knows what he's about. People on his team know him and know his abilities, BUT NO ONE ELSE DOES. Getting him exposure to a senior level operations director was a reward because next time Deb wants something done, she might ask for Charlie. Charlie's profile in the company has risen to a new level.

    Charlie did do the demo and it went off very well. He told me later that he was nervous because Deb seemed to really know the software he was showing and he was sure he was missing something critical. About twenty minutes after that conversation I ran into Deb. She said thanked me for arranging the demo and said that the clients were thrilled. Then she went on to say how well Charlie had done in giving the demo. She absolutely could not believe that we had that caliber of people on our staff and that she knew NOTHING about them. She mentioned that she realized she had lost touch with our organization and wondered if Charlie would be interested in working on another project that she had coming up....

    Charlie's stock has risen and so has Kay's. Neither of them got a raise, but both learned a lot and got noticed by people outside of their normal sphere of influence. It's a neat way to reward your top performers.