Category Archives: Methodologies

Knee deep in chicken-shit

Mr RedHere’s one I didn’t publish at the time for fairly obvious reasons.  I’ve no recollection now, five years later, whether whatever it was did pan out as I predicted, partly because my memories of 2008 mainly comprise the banking crisis.  I am making this post public in 2013, but backdating it to its original date in March 2008.

Schadenfreude, or taking pleasure in others’ pain, isn’t pretty, but by god it can feel good.

It was inappropriate of me to snigger at the end of last week when the system that went live last month fell over. It was wrong of me to be amused that the patronising assurances we’d been fed for months that it could never happen here were embarrassingly and publicly falsified. It was nasty of me to find it funny when the centrifugal force of the spin doctoring failed to deliver on the promises that any problems would be treated as a Type 1 incident.

Oh dearie me, dearie me, dearie me. It was wrongest of all for me not to give a flying f*** if the system as a whole ends up pulled as a result of going belly up last week.

You see, I can be a judgemental and vindictive cow, and I find professional sloppiness unnecessary and disgusting. I have spent months feeling uncomfortable, watching corners being cut, political games being played, a lack of progress being spun into news of progress and a sense of “them” and “us” being created.  I also have a strong sense of cause and effect. I believe in consequences. So it was grimly satisfying to know that the clucking and squawking last week was the sound of a whole flock of headless chickens coming home to roost.

We’ll be knee deep in chicken-shit next week, but by god it’s going to be worth it.

In which Aphra clears up a misunderstanding left behind by Mr Red

Mr BlueMr RedAn interesting piece of fallout fell out of the Mr Red and Mr Blue situation recently.

Mr Red, as you know, is my former boss – a great guy but so focused on getting there that he never made plans for how to get there. Mr Blue was the polar opposite: he is a man who could use the phrase “we must make a plan for a plan” with no sense of irony at all. Mr Blue doesn’t come into this story though.

The other day I was talking to a Higher Up who said something along the lines of “and I know you like project managment” and I said “???” and we stared at each other in surprise.

“Not me”, I said. “Some other person called Aphra”, I said. “I don’t want be a Project Manager”, I said.

“But Mr Blue said …”

Ah. Well.

“That was just because someone had to stop Mr Blue floating off into the sky”, I told him. “I like to know where I’m going and how I’m getting there, so I like to have a plan but I don’t want to be a PM”.

“Ah”, said the Higher Up. “I’ll move you out of the Project Lead box”.

I’m not entirely sure what that means either in theory or in practice, but I thought it was an interesting piece of fallout.

Mr Red and Mr Blue and Aphra’s Humble Pie

Mr RedI ought to update you on the Mr Red saga. You may remember that I had a disagreement earlier this summer with my boss. His middle initials are J.F.D.I. but I like to have a Plan A, a Plan B and if necessary a Plan C. So much so, in fact, that a previous boss once said “Ms Behn IS Plan B”.

The long and the short of the story was that I had grave misgivings about the fact we were failing to plan because of course that meant we were planning to fail. In the end I realised it was a doctrinal difference, gave in gracefully, and we agreed a five pound bet.

I paid up yesterday because the bugger was right and we didn’t need any more planning than we had already done, and we drank it at the team’s disbandment do. Nothing alarming, just another go round on the merry-go-round.

Mr BlueIn other news, a local Blues Club has chosen our wee village Hall as a venue, and while I am far too lazy to seek out the Blues, I am more than happy to partake if they are on my door-step.

In the immortal words of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band:

Can Blue Men sing the Whites
or are they Hypo-Crites?

(Scroll down to Line 19 for a sample).

Mr Red and Mr Blue and the Other Boot

Mr RedI’ve already blogged about the fact that I feel distinctly uneasy working without a Plan B.

Management texts define a Project as a complex one-off activity and a Process as a repeatable one. I have put it to Mr Red, who’s my boss, that no-one chez nous has previously done the work we’re are doing, that there are lots of places where it can go wrong and that therefore it qualifies as a Project. I won’t bore you with the scope of the thing, but I do tend to win “my roll-out is bigger than your roll-out” discussions with former colleagues at the Geek Reunion Ball.

Mr BlueAnyway, it isn’t being managed as a Project and we don’t have any contingency plans if things go wrong except “work out what to do at the time”. We are a bloody minded bunch so it’s an approach that will work, but it takes so much effort to make it up as I go along. I’d much rather implement a plan I made earlier. Maybe I just watched too much Blue Peter as a child.

I have been predicting doom and gloom like the dour Scottish one from Dad’s Army, and reminding my team that people always over-promise and under-deliver, and being told on a daily basis “Aphra, you are so cynical”. Well, cynical or not, I’m also right. Ner.

We are in fact only one week behind where I expected to be, which is a month behind where the rest of the team expected to be, all because other people over-promised and under-delivered and we believed them instead of tracking their status on a daily basis. I may be cynical, but Mr Red told me not to be anal, and now look at us.

All of that as it may be, I have spent the last 8 weeks waiting for Something to Go Wrong. Now that it has, I feel an enormous sense of relief. We have no choice now but to deal with reality. No more floating around in pretty-fluffy-cuckoo-land where people do what they say they do without being checked up on and software tests perfect the first time through.

I am thinking of having a motivational poster printed up saying:

People lie.


Software fails.


Deal with it.

First day back…

Mr RedFirst day back… and the world at work has not imploded!  Given my doctrinal differences with my boss, I am both delighted and surprised at this.  Heaven’s above – Mr Red may be right after all.   On the other hand, there is still a lot of low flying brown-stuff scheduled to arrive next week or the week after and if you ask me, there’s precious little protecting those fans.  I’ve started looking at the internal vacancies on the intranet. 

Introducing Mr Red and Mr Blue, and the fight for Aphra’s Soul

I’m caught up in a doctrinal war at work.

Mr RedIn the red corner we have someone who is intensely delivery-focussed. (Forgive the jargon, it’s late and I don’t have the energy to translate). He likes to get in there, get stuck in, tackle the problem head on and just sort the fuckers out. He’s good at it. It’s a bull in a china-shop approach, but if what you want is empty shelves then it works.

Mr BlueIn the blue corner we have someone who is equally focussed on delivering results. However his approach is much more measured. He plans. He analyses the problem and works out how much time and effort is needed to deal with it. He discusses the options with the people involved to get their agreement. He looks at the risks and takes the same approach of planning, analysis, discussion, and so on fractally, until the thing is done. This way not only are your shelves empty, but someone else did the heavy lifting and the china is neatly stacked and sorted too.

And then in the middle there’s me. I was born a Red girl (ever the Scarlet woman) but experience has shown me the benefits of the Way of Blue. As the RAF so elegantly put it, poor planning leads to piss-poor execution.

On Wednesday I realised that this is a doctrinal issue; a matter of world-view and belief, that there really is no point in putting Mr Blue’s arguments to Mr Red or indeed putting my own azure viewpoints myself. Mr Red simply won’t countenance the unnecessary over complexity of what I propose, any more than I can accept the risky, dangerous, scarletness of how he wants me to work.

This leaves me with a problem. Do I do my work the Red way, in the belief that I will fail and the knowledge that my name is written all over it? Or do I fight Mr Red tooth and nail, even though he is my boss and ultimately what he says goes? Or, rat-like, do I leave the ship?

When I typed that I brought myself up short. The answer seemed pretty obvious. Look for a nice turquoise or aquamarine project to work on and stop banging my head against a red brick wall. So what’s stopping me?

The problem is I really like Mr Red; he’s fun to work for. We work well together when we do work together (he’s not just red, he’s invisible). He’s funny, supportive, energetic, helpful, positive, determined, optimistic, enthusiastic. The perfect boss in very many ways. Except for this foolish adherence to the Way of Red. (Mr Blue on the other hand is a dour bugger, and can be hard work to work for, but that’s another story). If I did leave the ship and scuttle off somewhere else in the harbour then I’d miss out on a lot of good things, including trust, by not working for Mr Red.

Interestingly, one thing I said on Wednesday brought him up short completely. I said “I don’t think I can fly by the seat of my pants for 6 months; I don’t think I can handle the adreneline”. There was an audible crashing of mental gears (we were on the phone – perish the thought we’d actually meet to talk these things through) and then he said “then I’d have to look at restructuring the team”.

He did soften that immediately, but I do find it interesting that we are both aware that the that task and the tool might not be best suited to each other.

Sorry about the over-flow of metaphors. It’s been a colourful week.

Had a meeting with Mr Red today. He pointed out that we are both itching to be able to turn round to the other and say “I told you so”. So we’ve each put down a fiver on it which we’ll drink when we know who was right, probably on an appropriate Friday in September. It is going to be an interesting summer. He seemed quite confused that I don’t view work as an extreme sport.

Mental Maps

I need to have a mental map of everything I have to do, in order to be able to get on and do things. Without one, I flounder around and lose track.

If I am going to get on with – say – cleaning the kitchen, I need to know that – yes – I have to clean the living room, but that can wait until tomorrow so long as I remove the dead mouse, and that although I’m going to paint the kitchen, it won’t be before the next free Saturday with dry weather.

All the things I have to do are neatly arranged in relation to each other and to calender dates and other events on my mental map, like squadrons of Spitfires at Bomber Command.

RAF Operations Room - WWII

Sometimes it’s a mind-map, sometimes it’s a project plan, sometimes its a flow-chart, sometimes it’s just a really well internalised list, but if I don’t have that map in one form or another things get forgotten and this has been happening more and more recently. What with having time off, studying, training courses and the like, my mental map has become very disturbed.

We discovered today that we had forgotten about a whole load of things-to-do from last month: the professional equivalent of finding green stuff in coffee mugs which had been put away in the cupboard and left for four weeks.

Through an accident of scheduling I have two completely clear days tomorrow and Thursday and so I have all the time and mental space I need to rebuild my map. Woo Hoo!

However, when I told my boss about this he looked concerned and issued a warning: “don’t forget that things can change”. He’s normally very trusting but he’s resisted my attempts to introduce mental order before. He seems afraid that structure will introduce inflexibility. I find this really interesting, because it is so different from how I think.

I’m going to put a pin in my map tomorrow to remind me to ask him how he keeps track of what he has to do.