Week Eleven: Tuesday

This is one of many entries in the Change Diary: a true story of success and failure, written as it happened.


12 Mar, 2002

Remember how I said it's been "two steps forward, one step back?" Today was a step back. The project manager and QA lead are no longer sitting in the bullpen. The PM is ignoring the cards we prepared Friday and has gone back to handing out spreadsheets with "commitment dates" on them. I'm pretty sure he's added tasks to the list as well, or at least shuffled owners around. I asked the PM if would mind sitting in the bullpen with us again, since it was so helpful last time... he was clearly reluctant, and said something about needing to make sure space was available.

Days like today are depressing.

But now that I've been off work for a while, I can apply a bit of perspective. Why is the PM resisting? I think he knows, deep down, that the cards and bullpen are effective. So what's going on? Well...

  • Sitting in the bullpen is probably less comfortable than sitting in his cube. There's less space and he has to use his laptop rather than his desktop. Furthermore, he misses phone calls. Also, there really isn't room. He has to stake out a narrow stretch of desk between two other people.

  • The cards a bit harder, but perhaps their informality turns him off. Plus, I might be acting like a threat: scheduling has been his bailiwick, and here I am taking that over with my cards. Also, the cards are not electronic, something which has invariably made people uncomfortable. And since he's not sitting in the bullpen, the cards are also not visible to him.

So what do I do?

(I wish I could just apply a rolled-up newspaper. I feel like I'm trying to prop up a soggy mattress: the part I'm holding on to stays up, but everything else droops.)


13 Mar, 2002

Struggling back up... today I got the PM to prioritize the task cards we created Friday. It wasn't easy... I had to gently prod several times. All the programmers were very happy to have them prioritized, which was gratifying. I would say that the programmers are very happy with the index card approach. The PM is not actively against the idea, but is being passive aggressive about it: basically, he ignores them and does his own thing. I think he's definitely uncomfortable with the task cards, but I'm not sure why or what to do about it.

Years Later...

28 Apr, 2006

We need to talk about the "R" word. No, not "ratatouillie." Relationships.

It's harder to tell these days, but I'm a very shy person. I have trouble with small talk and I'm most comfortable when conversations stay firmly on work topics. It can take me weeks to warm up to somebody I work with on a daily basis.

I eventually realized that my shyness was making me seem stand-offish and hurting my effectiveness. I focused on trying to fix the problem. I didn't unlearn my shyness, but I did succeed in teaching myself how to be more sociable. I'm still uncomfortable talking to someone I don't know well, but at least I can hold up my end of a non-work conversation.

Despite my efforts, I'll probably never be one of those people that effortlessly starts a conversation with a total stranger. You know the type--they sit next to someone on the plane and five minutes later they know the names of all their kids and they're chatting like they've known each other for years. If you see someone doing that, you can be sure of one thing: it's not me.

I heard an interesting definition of "introvert" and "extrovert" once. I don't remember where. The definition went like this: for an extrovert, socializing with strangers boosts their energy. For an introvert, socializing with strangers drains their energy. Sounds right to me.

In 2002, my energy reserves were firmly at "E." It's too bad. Technical people, often being introverts themselves, are willing to look past a chilly personality and focus on ideas. Managers, particularly non-technical managers, live in a world of people and relationships. They're attuned to attitudes and reactions.

I was still learning how to hide my shyness in 2002. I didn't have much use for our project manager. I was superficially friendly, but he had proven that he was unable to lead a project and so I largely ignored him. I certainly didn't try to learn about his family or inquire after the family dog.

I doubt the project manager liked me much, either. And yet he went out of his way to be friendly. I don't remember the details, but he probably asked me if I had kids, when I was planning to get married, etc., etc. I'm sure I reacted with an introvert's dread, short answers, and a desire to end the conversation as soon as possible.

Imagine you're a project manager who's highly attuned to interpersonal cues and reactions. You're asked to sit with a group of programmers who don't like you much. They don't say that, but you can tell. They largely ignore you, and when you try to lighten the atmosphere by striking up a casual conversation, they retreat as quickly as possible and hide behind their work.

Now add an uncomfortable seating area and no ability to respond to the phone, the lifeblood of your work. The programmers say that it's a big help, but how would they know? You're the project manager, you're a contract employee with no job security, there's no other jobs to be found (you've looked), and you can see quite clearly that the deadline hasn't just slipped three times, it's about to slip a fourth time. Sitting together? The ship is sinking around your ears, and these guys think sitting together made a difference? It's just another excuse. All those damned stuck-up programmers will do is come up with silly ways to avoid working hard enough to meet the deadline you absolutely must meet.

I don't know if I could have formed a good relationship with the project manager even if I had tried harder. It's not my forte. But if I could have, I think it would have made a difference. I could have had an ally rather than a silent saboteur.

PS: Ratatouillie is eggplant casserole. Mmm.

Next: Week Eleven: Thursday

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