Friday, May 22, 2015

Derailment, part III

Continued from Part II

I literally go from the airport, to Gumby's office, and thence to G's house to watch basketball. I'm absolutely shredded and a long weekend away from it all could not be better timed.

Hoops with the gang is sacred. I know next to nothing about basketball, but the gang puts up with me anyway. We eat a lot, drink a lot and loaf a lot - which is good for your mental state.

And my mental state needed a helping hand. I'd booked my PTO back when the West Virginia trip was not a threat - then the trip was moved to be right on top of Hoops.

Not cool. I ride out the weekend and soak up the camaraderie. Then I slouch back home to deal with Arwafn.

First there's the anxiety tag: Nerdhaven, like any business, has factions - and the loudest faction at present is the SMEs. The SMEs are frontline staff, up to their eyes in subject matter expertise, but also expected to perform a slew of customer contact, sales & support.

Since they have real jobs, they're not deeply plugged into what goes on back at Nerdhaven, and a lot of the work that our UX team does seems (to them, at least) to come from outer space. There are a lot of reasons for this: distance, iterative design, and a long history of unsatisfactory dealings with UX.

We don't build exactly what they ask for. Largely because every request out of the SMEs starts with a solution. They are smart people, and they know what they want.

Being in UX, we know that any solution causes more problems - and the trick is to look for root causes before you "just build what they ask for." It doesn't mean that UX folks have the answers (lord knows we don't) but our approach is to get more data to see if we can gain enough insight to make a 'big win' kind of solution.

The SMEs don't have time to wait for that kind of thing. They need answers yesterday - and are confident that their chosen approach will begin paying off immediately.  They may be right - but one of the things we hear from our end users is classic alert fatigue: the users have more warnings then they have time to respond to. And a lot of the requests from SMEs amount to 'gimme a new alert option.'

Its difficult, and frequently frustrating for both UX and the SMEs and I don't see a good way out of it.

*     *     *

With that bit of background, you can appreciate the amount of anxiety tag that is ripping through the SMEs after the launch of Arwafn. They've done demos of the report in front of clients. They've described its many features and clients have oooohed and aaaaaaahed. And now the product has been flipped on for their clients and the result is a big, wet, thud.

And it's the SME on the horn or in the room with the client having to take the abuse, not me. Nobody in UX is on the phone with a baffled customer trying to explain why their numbers don't add up.  Historically, the SMEs have to run with whatever features make it out of UX and they quickly share the skinny on what they've seen so they can go into client contact forewarned and forearmed.

I'm eventually cc'ed on a series of messages between the SMEs "Did you hear? This filter is a failure across the board!!" and that SME tells the next one, and the next - and soon you have a whirlwind of anxiety making its way to the higher ups.

The higher ups have seen this movie - and they rapidly direct their power on various minions who are ordered to bring them clarity about what the hell is going on. One of the higher ups is Gumby, new to Nerdhaven and that means I'm getting pulled into their office and other meetings to explain everything I know in detail.

I spell it out over and over again. I state my mistakes and assessment of where the product is at the moment. I spell out the issue with TURN codes and list out a half dozen other things that could be made to work better.

Then I do it again in front of the the execs. I have to go before the Wizard, who is mighty, but never really says much. I live in mortal terror of having to go before MGM, who is mightier still, but those fears are thankfully not realized.

Airing the TURN issue in front of this crowd means we are going to fix the issue. HockeyOne will be happy, Ajax will be relieved, and our client's data will at last be made whole.

And the exec level folks will make our lives an unending hell until all of this is done.

Product is leaving the company - completely unrelated to this situation, they just got a VP gig elsewhere, so this 'fix the Arwafn' effort is going to need a point person.

Absolutely no one volunteers. So, after a loooooong pause, Gumby raises a hand.

As the newest manager at Nerdhaven, Gumby has a free pass in the situation. They had nothing to do with what has happened up until now. Their role is enthusiastically endorsed by a roomful of cowards.

*     *     *

The boss is in this up to their neck, and UX is now on the hook in a larger sense. Gumby has to prevail.

And Nerdhaven has to fix Arwafn. All of it.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Derailment, part II

Continuing from Part I

Arwafn is coming undone. And for a reason I first started hearing about a month after I came to Nerdhaven.

One of the base data elements of Arwafn is something I'll call TURN. TURN is a series of codes that factor into the key datapoint of the Arwafn report. Calling it the lynchpin of the report would not be overstating it. The customer sends Nerdhaven TURN codes and we group them, count them, and make them look beautiful.

Classically, a TURN code is a single character value. Like T, or U, or R, or N. And Nerdhaven's process is built on this standard.

Single character come in, single character go into database. Arwafn is happy.

But what if TURN comes in as multiple characters?

Instead of T, let's say it comes in as T<*

Then what?

This question had been posed and answered for me by Noddy. Noddy had raised an issue about multichar TURN codes in their usual manner: Airily, arrogantly "raising a concern" via email to a slew of senior staff. Runner and I were cc'ed so we would be aware of his brilliance.

Look at me!

That's Noddy, and the truth is - its hurts their message, since the resulting eyeroll drowns out the content. But the issue sounded serious.

According to Noddy, when a multi-character TURN code came in to a system I'll call Dragon, it would get truncated. Dragon would take just the first character and bin everything else.

T<* would become simply, T.

And that didn't sound so bad, and really wasn't bad, until new values were added to the TURN code like NO and TDD. These were values that were distinct from T, U, R, and N.

But if Noddy was right, Dragon would take an incoming code like TDD and convert it to T. NO would become N.

And that really would be a problem. Because now our system would be adulterating client data - and that is not cool. Arwafn would be inaccurate, and other features in our product would be wrong as well. TURN is deep, deep in the works. And Noddy wants us to know he's found this problem.

I remember Heater responding to Noddy's initial email. Heater had a few stories written up to deal with this issue - they'd never been given priority before, but maybe now the time was ri-

Dragonman kills that noise almost immediately. Dragonman is lead dev on the Dragon system, and his response took the wind out of Noddy & Heater.

Here's a count of all the incoming TURNs we've received in the past two months: out of millions of messages, we're only gettting a few hundred N values. Even if all of them were really 'NO' values, its a negligible amount of data.

In other words, Dragonman was saying this is not a problem.

Heater lives in fear of Dragonman, and Noddy never follows up on anything. So that was enough to make them drop the issue.

I'd remember talking with UXDir and they were frustrated that we weren't fixing this issue. "We shouldn't treat this like a tech support call! Who cares if there isn't a lot of volume now? We should make this right, so we future proof the system!"

I also remember talking to Product & suggesting that supporting longer TURN values might be a selling point for our product. Product said we didn't have any data to support that it would be worth it. Between that and the technical pushback, the idea was buried.

Yeah, we truncated the TURN codes, but it didn't matter enough to warrant allocating dev resources to fix it.

*     *     *

That answer became the party line: We truncate, but so what?

Months later, even I used that line to shoot down Suit when they tried to grandstand on the discovery that OMG, we're truncating TURN values!

Suit was engaging in that same chicken little exercise where "lookee everybody! I found a problem (and gosh, aren't I smart?)" and I was in no mood. I forwarded Dragonman's original response on TURN to Suit and cc'ed about everyone. This is a crap issue, leave it alone.

I felt proud of myself, too. I knew what was going on under the hood with TURN. It's no big deal.

*     *     *

Rewind to about five months ago. I'm on the phone with Goldeagle, one of our beta testers, and they are looking at their version of Arwafn and they are confused.

The numbers for this item just look wrong. It's way too high, and I think the count is off.

I'd seen this before, but it had always been a setting problem. The user had misconfigured things and broke the output. But a quick check showed that Goldeagle had the settings right. The numbers were just wrong. I told them I would figure out what the problem was.

This was weeks after Arwafn went live to over 100 customers. And this was definitely not good.

I asked BigDog to give me the under the hood data for Goldeagle's report. I do the math and everything adds up to the same crappy numbers Goldeagle was wondering about. And I notice a pattern in the data: the calculation is based on the occurrence of T's out of the total of T's, U's, and R's.

And there are no R's at all.

Which is odd, because Arwafn is report that spans a year or more. In the course of a year, for this particular datapoint - there should be at least an R here and there.

I check again. None.

As all the data I'm looking at is in the Guardian database, I wonder if we're screwing things up somewhere upstream: in Dragon, maybe.

But Dragon doesn't hold data, they take incoming values and slot them into our Guardian db. True, Dragon would be the place where we are truncating TURN codes, but truncating still passes something and I was seeing no Rs at all. Was there a process that was eating the Rs?

And why was it only for this one record? Arwafn has dozens of record lines, each crossing columns with other values. And only this one combination was showing this total lack of Rs.

What the hell?

At this point, I trot over to the other side of the building and visit HockeyOne. They are a code slinger, an expert on incoming client data, and they're one of the folks that are always asking me painful questions when I'm showcasing new features.

HockeyOne lives and breathes in another system that is upstream of Dragon. It's called Lizard. And Lizard is very low level stuff, grabbing up massive volumes of text files sent by our clients and flinging them into the jaws of Dragon.

HockeyOne is a guru of all things Lizard and I start asking them if they have any idea what could be happening to my missing Rs.  HockeyOne looks at me with a sort of amused smile and says "have you looked at the KIM fields?"

No. KIM fields are not TURN fields, why the hell would I look there?

"Because if the TURN is too long to go into Dragon, we'll append it to the end of a KIM field and pass a blank TURN value."


HockeyOne goes on to explain the problem. Lizard wants to pass all TURN values to Dragon, but it will get an error if it tries to pass a TURN that is longer than 1 character, since Dragon will only take a 1 char TURN code.

Rather than give up, Lizard will look for a neighboring field, KIM, and append the TURN value to it so the data has somewhere to go in Dragon. Lizard doesn't truncate the TURN, it puts it elswhere and passes nothing at all to the TURN code in Dragon.

I start to sweat. "Can you run a query to show me what kinds of extra noise is getting tacked on to Goldeagle's KIM field?"

HockeyOne says "sure!" and writes up byzantine query in a few minutes. They show me a list of values that are in the KIM field, but supposedly came in as values in TURN:

  • BLES
  • UB
  • CLAB

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? I've never heard of these values coming across in TURN. I ask HockeyOne to make sure - absolutely sure - these values exist in the client's messages to our system. HockeyOne goes deep into the weeds to show me - that these are real values Goldeagle is sending to us AND that they are sending to as as TURN codes.

I ask for samples that prove this, so I can show them to others. HockeyOne has just demonstrated that we are NOT truncating TURN codes, we are moving them elsewhere. Which to downstream features like Arwafn, is essentially the same thing as deleting them, since Arwafn is looking at the TURN field, which ends up blank every time one of these multicharacter values bounces off Dragon's front door.

HockeyOne is excited. They've always hated the fact that Lizard was shoving data in weird places, and they've asked repeatedly for Dragon to take longer values and store them. They give me all kinds of examples of what is going on in Goldeagle's incoming messages - and I find front end examples of this data mangling so I can sell this as a real issue.

Then I get back with Goldeagle, and ask them what is going on with these other codes. What do they mean? and why are they being sent in a field that should only have 6 discrete values?

Goldeagle tells me that their system uses those other values to track TURN as well as an entirely different dimension called BLES. In their system, the code BLES = R and also has some additional meaning as well. UB is also the equivalent of R.

Which means I've found my missing R values, they are being sent as multichar values in TURN, which means Lizard isn't putting them into our db as TURN values, because Dragon won't let them.

Which means Arwafn is pretty much screwed at this point, because Arwafn only sees TURN values in the Guardian database. If multichar TURN values aren't landing in Guardian's TURN field, they might as well not exist - because to Arwafn - they don't.

I ask HockeyOne how often Lizard would move TURN values into KIM and send a blank value in TURN to Dragon. I mean, I'd always been told we truncate.

HockeyOne is pretty sure that we do this for a majority of our sites. Which means that Goldeagle has a lot of company. And a lot of our Arwafn customers are going to be missing data.

I flip out and go to Data and Heater and declare that the sky is falling. Data tells me that what I am saying is inaccurate. "We truncate."

I show them the messages. "No, we don't. At least not for this site."

My equivocation doesn't help my case. I may have just found an outlier. I email a wider group and provoke an exasperated response from Ajax, who is the sheriff of these kinds of data issues. Ajax is a supremely competent person and they tell me that I'm describing the situation wrong. That any moving of data into different fields would require changes that they would be aware of. And they have seen no such changes.

I take this as "murph, you are full of sh!t" and as I have only one site as a datapoint, I can't press much further.  I get more data by hitting up OneTwentyEight to run HockeyOne's byzantine query against all of my beta sites.

More long TURN values show up, noisier ones like "NEG" and "POS" and a slew of things that look like equations. I run this past Data and Sprint and start to get some traction.

Sprint (who is awesome) runs ahead and sorts out a list of what chunks of work would need to be done to get these longer values into our system correctly.

We get Dragonman into the fold and a reasonable solution is proposed. Dragon will create a path for longer values to make it into Guardian. We draft up a list of work to present to Product.

We're on the verge of pitching this plan when all hell breaks lose on Arwafn.

I'm in West Virginia getting an alarmed email message from Product asking what the hell is going on with Arwafn. I'm wrung out from a long day of client visits yet completely unable to sleep - and so I lie in bed and type an epic mea culpa with my thumbs. We didn't go under the hood enough when we were in beta. This is over and above the TURN problem, but this starts the crazy train rolling.

I fly back home and drive straight to the office from the airport and see Gumby and Atlas clearly having a strategy meeting. I make myself available and soon we are in stage one of responding to an epic managerial sh!tshow.

The executives have heard that Arwafn isn't all it was cracked up to be and they are demanding answers.

The execs are flipping out about filters on the report not working - and they are pissed.

And at this point, they have no idea about the issues with TURN.

Its about to get a whole lot worse.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Derailment, part I

All at once, work is exhilarating and terrible.

Arwafn is rolling out to the world, and while the internal reviews are good - the only score that counts is the one you get from the end users.

The early reports are the worst. Not because they are bad, but because they usually represent incomplete opinions, initial reactions - delight in something new. They are passed along by hopeful co-workers who want to believe the same thing I do: that it has worked. That our customers are pleased with what we've done.

Somehow, I always manage to fall for this.  I supposed to be dispassionate, but after a year of working on the project, I want success. I want happy customers.

And so I flatter myself to think that this time, we did it right.

And then the second round of reviews roll in.

Second round is usually polite, deferential even. "Hey, I'm wondering about this bit here..."

By the third round, you know you have problems, and you start looking for patterns. This is not a drill. You'll need to fix this.

Bin the ego and lean into this, because it's going to hurt.
"Customer has some questions about this filter. It doesn't seem to work" 
"...numbers aren't adding up. They want to know why..."
Third, round - the co-workers have stopped being nice. They want to know what the problem is. And how those problems managed to make it through QA and beta testing.

There is no worse feeling in UX than watching a customer delight in seeing what they wanted to see - and then watch them realize their mistake.

Oh...I guess that isn't working.

*     *     *

The flaw in Arwafn that managed to make it all the way into production is the most maddening of all. Arwafn relies on customer supplied data - in the form of a data feed.

Data flows from a client's system and flows into Arwafn. Arwafn turns the tidal wave of data into an intelligible grid and allows the user to manipulate it in several ways. We've checked the design against the industry standards, we've verified that the added functionality was wanted by the customers - we've set up beta testers with their live data in Arwafn and let them play with it to get their responses.

And we've had QA try to beat it to death with everything short of a tire iron.

Arwafn came through all that. The board was green.

But we'd missed something - something that was admittedly pretty hard to quantify, but something that we could have noticed earlier.

The client data feeds are crap.

We were like engineers building a colossal aqueduct across miles of countryside and then aiming it at a dry lake.

Or, more accurately, a bog.

Some customers follow the agreed on specification for supplying the data and - for them - all is well. But for a still to be determined group of customers, they send us garbage - and for them, Arwafn is smelling pretty foul.

And it's no good pointing the finger back at our clients. We told them Arwafn was a new feature - we did not tell them it might work if your data isn't godawful.

Nor did we design the report to degrade gracefully. That principle I began learning with regards to crap browsers ages ago was noticeably absent when I baked out the stories to build this report.

It's a basic idea - and yet I'm re-learning it for the umpteenth time:

Okay, it works when A, B and C are present. What if I take away A?

Easy. It looks like it's still working - but isn't.

What if I take away B?

Same thing.

And so on. Any of those questions getting some real thought would have resulted in what NerdHaven is now rapidly deploying to the field. Switches to enable the functionality dependent on A.

Don't have A? We'll shut that off for you.
No B? We'll turn that off, too.

The rest will still work.

That's how it should have been designed from the get go, but in my naiveté thought "Of course, they'll all be sending us this information. How could they not?"

 And they're not. Or rather, I wish they just weren't - that would have been easy to spot.

When we did beta sites, no data would have resulted in obvious failures. But that didn't happen. We had data flowing into our UI, and the dependent features worked as expected.

Did we ask users to go through our report line by line to ensure accuracy?

We did not.

Did we ask our internal experts to crawl around under the hood of our beta sites?

We did not.

All of this, every new expression of the problem, slams home into whatever professional pride I'd managed to save up. Three weeks ago, Runner and I were heroes. Now, I'm being forwarded emails from our SMEs where they are describing Arwafn's failings in scathing terms. I'd have hoped I would have been included in those messages when they were sent, but I get them secondhand. After they've been routed through management.

Atlas has been unfazed by this - they point out we've had data issues in the past, and the scope of the issue is being overblown. I feel genuinely ill. Atlas and Gumby finished up my performance reviews before this all blew up. I came out really well in their eyes. I was proud.

And now this. The folks who sang my praises are now being hauled in front of the executive leadership team.

And there is something else. Something that goes beyond a customer sending us crap data.

Something I'd heard about and went after.... just way too late.

Thursday, February 26, 2015


To: C

Need to ask you a question...but it's one with some consequence.

Have you tried to post a comment on my blog in the last week, posing as someone called Noddy?

I've been slagging on Noddy (a co worker) on my blog - and I believe they've managed to stumble across my blog.

You've pranked me on my blog in the past - and if it really was you, it would be a genuine relief.

Let me know when you can,


*     *     *

CTo: murph 
What?  That would be bad.That’s why I had to post as Noddy. Gotcha. 

*     *     *

Kinda makes me wish I'd contacted C before I'd ended up telling my co-workers about my blog at the holiday party.


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Gumby Ascendant

After months of reporting to Atlas and basically fending for ourselves, the UX folks at NerdHaven at last have a new boss.

It's Gumby from CorpWorld.

They arrived at a time of chaos. Atlas was overseas while our two development teams - who spent last year merged into a super-team - were reverting into separate teams with separate backlogs of work. The entire organization was coming off the holidays, we were starting 8 new people, and our only slightly less-new scrum master was trying to change our primary work tool. Data is no longer on the UX team and is reporting to Portal. Product was churning up trouble in the priorities list - tackling work that was typically in UX's bailiwick...

-and that was just for starters. I remember being more than a little overwhelmed my first week, but I was dealing with established patterns and procedures. The goalposts weren't moving.

Gumby's got a sh!t ton more stuff to learn than I ever did - and they're doing it when they don't know what is normal and what is a catastrophic departure from the norm.

Welcome to NerdHaven!

But Gumby is their old self, a person I've known for years - and great to talk to. They are in good spirits and I wonder how much of that is the post CorpWorld euphoria that I'm still tapping into. Runner's been keen on getting them here - because they get a finder's fee - but it's also clear to me that Runner has a rapport with the new boss.

And that's a good start. We spend a lot of Gumby's first week forwarding meeting invites and trying to explain away the crazy that is currently gripping NerdHaven.

No, it is not normal for the QA server to bonk and make us cancel the showcase.

Usually, your UX folks realize which team they are on and which one they aren't.

No, it is not normal for us to start a meeting with client with absolutely no data in hand.

That last one was particularly galling. UX is helping Product with the needs of a truly massive client, and we'd asked them in our last meeting to give us some feedback on some possible improvements to our design. At the follow up meeting - which I invited Gumby to - the client was going to give us their feedback.

Right now, any UXer with a brain is saying: that sounds completely wrong. Yes, it was. But we'd come off the holidays having gotten absolutely nothing from the rep working the account. BigRep scheduled the meeting for a Monday (Arrrgh!) and pinged me about a half an hour before the meeting to ask if I was leading the discussion.

I'm like: Sure, I can talk to them - unless Product is driving this bus. BigRep says they'll ping Product - and never gets back to us. Since they've also neglected to reserve a room for the call - Runner and I grab one and invite Gumby, Product and BigRep.

BigRep declines. They want to run the call from their office. Fair enough.

We set up, BigRep does the introductions and we have several people from MassiveClient on the line. Runner sets up the webex on the conference room's machine and shares our screen. I start out by reframing our last discussion and segue into the part where they were going to provide us with feedback. This is going out on a limb a bit, because I'm not entirely certain they've given us anything.

The opposite turns out to be true. They respond with "We've already sent it to you. Weeks ago."

Uh, what the screaming fark?

"Have you seen our spreadsheet? Our team worked diligently on it."

I'm mouthing obscenities while I watch an email appear on my (unshared) laptop. It's from BigRep and it contains two attachments: a PDF and a Word Doc. Both are clearly from the client.

The words 'weeks ago' had blown pretty much every other thought out of my head - so I sit there for a second while I realize the scope of this disaster. We were going to meet to listen to these people, and they are expecting us to have absorbed these documents already. They are going to want to see designs based on them.


What do you do? I'll go by the Ziegler principle: Because it's the easiest thing to remember - tell the truth.

I fess up to not having seen the documents, apologize profusely and start talking about scheduling a follow up meeting where we can have the meeting this feedback deserved. BigRep cuts me off and suggests spending the rest of the meeting going through the feedback documents they've provided and we can ask them questions about them.

Yes. Off the cuff questions are really worth these people's time. They've taken time away from their real jobs and we're going to -

Whatever. We need to proceed. Gumby's first chance to observe UX doing client research is them watching us implode thanks to our being left out of the communication channel.

We finish up as best we can and I go over to BigRep.


BigRep is somewhat aware that something bad has happened, makes it sound like the files never made their way to them until this morning and then starts talking about how it wasn't really that bad.

In other words - this is their fault.

I'm angry and embarrassed. Angry, because this was a total waste of everyone's time - and I'm not convinced that BigRep is tracking that. I guess I'm not really all that embarrassed - UX's screw up was we should have been asking after feedback earlier (and we absolutely will from now on) - but the big ball drop wasn't ours. MassiveClient won't care - they'll be mad at all of us,with good reason.

I really wanted to have a good session so Gumby could have a decent client interview under their belt, but it turns out to be a good experience for them. They get BigRep on the hook for scheduling a follow up with MassiveClient as well as a check in for our team and BigRep beforehand to make sure we won't have a repeat of "oh, I never sent you that?"

This is a good move by Gumby and a sensible practice. Schedule the team meet up when you schedule the client contact. We should be doing this and hadn't been. Point for the Boss.

Gumby also had new eyes when our pre-IPM meeting started to tank because of AV equipment failure. Runner was hanging up the call by accident (their anti-superpower) and I'm misreading the horrid UI on the three remotes that drive this equipment.

We get the call back and Gumby points out two things we were doing wrong and - Presto! - we're back in business. Boss: 2, Subordinates: 0.

Gumby's full of surprises. I remember from their interview that they had a background in the (hideously complicated) subject matter our app is grounded in. But on the job, I can see this becoming a bigger asset as they deal with other in house managers. Gumby's hidden reserve of subject matter expertise will save them from being steamrolled.

Three points for the Boss.

Well, four actually. Gumby has been read into the whole Noddy situation. And so far, the signs are positive. Regular meetings and calling Noddy out on their bullsh!t. The fear is that they are trying to rehabilitate Noddy - which I think would be disastrous. Noddy will do the work if someone is riding them every day. But it would have to be every day. That's a waste of managerial effort, and frankly I think Noddy has passed the point where they could turn things around. They've had at least two years - and this is what we have. It is time to tell them what standards they have to meet and what will happen when they don't meet them. Perhaps Noddy is no longer inspired by their job, and if that's the case - they should search for work that inspires them. UX is a good market these days.

Gumby's just starting out with the Noddy situation, and so far it looks like they are doing the right thing. Gumby and Atlas attended our last IPM and got to see Noddy try to snow everyone. "My work's all ready to go!" It wasn't and it showed - in front of management. It wasn't the full blown implosion the work truly deserved, though.  I think restraint on the part of a lot of our team made things go better than perhaps they should have. But it served to underline the proper way to treat Noddy. Watch this one closely.

Those are the positives to the new era - so far.

There's another aspect to Gumby that has begun showing through that has us more that a bit on edge. I'm not sure I can describe it fairly, but here goes...

Gumby is enthusiastic about creating process and documenting roles. They do so with an energy that seems - to my admittedly cynical mind - to be a little...excessive.  I mean, sometimes - you need to write down a new process so everyone can get on the same path. I get that. But on our project team, the attitude is always that documenting process is a necessary evil.

With Gumby, I get the sense that this is something they genuinely enjoy. Part of this has to do with the way they process information. Their mental workspace appears to be external. Draw things, gesticulate, explain. Communicating what they want may appear excessive because they are doing all of it in front of you. Their enthusiasm for it comes across as cheerleading - and that may be unfair.

Part of my comprehension process has always been explaining things to others - or at least writing them down. Lord knows, I've bored plenty of people with my explanations of things. AmIright?

But there's something else in the wind with Gumby. They are the boss - and we should expect some changes to our wild west existence. Under the former UXDir, we were mostly left to our own devices. After their departure, we've gone positively feral.

The thought that Gumby might start shifting roles within our team - pairing us up on projects differently (e.g. with Noddy) has more than a few of us nervous. Gumby wants to have us do less analyst work and more pure design. I love the analysis part. Doing the investigation means I know what I'm writing up - and writing up the requirements from soup to nuts means I won't lose anything in translation. I want to be open to improvements, but I don't off the cuff change.

Data's abrupt request to report to someone other than the UX director struck me as an indication of their faith in the new boss. I could be wrong.

Gumby came from CorpWorld - and adding meetings & discrete roles may be part of their DNA, or it might be part of their detox process. Part of what's great about NerdHaven is having the freedom to run a problem to ground and kill it. CorpWorld always had a procedural roadblock that stopped you. Or a faction you had to have buy in from.

It's still early days - so I'm not sure where this is going yet. But maybe that is the thing:
Gumby is at the helm of UX: and the crew is nervously looking astern.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

1, 2, 3, 4, 5

A while ago, readers of this blog might have noticed an odd post. The contents were a single number which appeared once in the post title and once in the post's body. It was up for just a day or so. 

I promised someone an explanation, and here it is.

*   *   *

I was somewhere over Greenland when it first happened.

Mom and I were flying back from Norway and I had a series of thoughts that haven't left me.

I was looking out the maddeningly thick window at a distorted, frozen landscape and my drama starved imagination conjured up a 'for instance.' And then it just wouldn't stop.

What if the plane tore itself apart right now?

I would die.

But what if the plane came apart without hurting you?

I would still die. At cruising altitude there simply isn't enough air to breathe.

What If you held your breath until you fell into thicker air?

I would still die. Cerebral or pulmonary edema.

Those might not affect you before you...

Froze to death? It's -50 up there. Centigrade.

Dressed warmly...

I would miraculously remain alive and conscious during the six mile plunge to my death.

But if you had a parachute...

And the foresight to strap it on before I was hurled into a frozen, oxygen starved plummet.

You could-

Crash onto Greenland's ice shelf and wander aimlessly until I froze.



*   *   *

It's thoughts like this that drive home how completely insane it is to be flying in a commercial jetliner.

All those people sitting around you, jostling over seat inclines and gazing expectantly at the attendants? They are shielded from certain death by an aluminium barrier that is a fraction of an inch thick. The notional protection of seat belts, masks, and flotation devices - glossed over with movies, snacks and beverage service. All of it. It makes no sense.

I am not a bad flyer. I don't get shortness of breath, or grip my seat or do any of the classic freak outs. 

Point of fact, I don't freak out. I just fly. But that part of my brain that delights in imagining tragedy and horror is terribly overstocked with source material when it comes to aircraft.

So that's what my brain does while I fly - run an endless loop of Tenerife, Jet Blue, and Lockerbie. My own private 'Seconds from Disaster.' And as a - reasonably - rational adult, I would just deal. But I'm finding there's a difference between flying with my family - and flying without them.

With them, there are countless logistical distractions. Keep the kids from fighting, hold out on deploying snacks or electronics. Bathroom breaks for one and all. There's no time to think, much less think about the thousand of ways everyone you hold dear could suddenly become doomed.

And even if you could, you'd have to eat it, because you can't freak in front of your little girl. Man up, right?

First time I flew without my family, I was going to London. I've been lots of places, but I'd never been to Europe as an adult and there were lots of distractions. Outbound is always easier, you're fresher and looking forward to new adventures. 

The return leg is different. You're beat, and you're headed back to the known - the resumption of all you'd flown away from. 

And Greenland was the return leg from London. It was like a series of bursting dams. I'd hold firm for awhile and then some new possibility would occur to me and I'd be seized with the overwhelming urge to walk the F$%8 around. To run. To scream that we needed to get to a safer altitude, because this sh!t just isn't right.

Air travel was different for me after that.

*   *   *

Sometime after it became clear that I would be taking a second trip to Europe with Mom, I had the idea.

Whenever Mom flew in for a visit, she would joke about things we probably should know and file away. Y'know, here's where I store my logins - in case the plane goes down.

When dad died - I remembered being impressed at how well organized things were. Paperwork was filed away, bills paid, very little to sort out. Aside from waiting for the overwhelmed state agencies to give us dad's death certificate - I think there were two loose ends. We had to transfer title of two of the vehicles that were under just his name to Mom - since the storm had totaled them and insurance wouldn't pay out to a dead man. That, and the gun safe combo was only in dad's head - we had to go through a Byzantine recovery process to get the manufacturer to give it to us.  But on the whole, dad's things were in order.

The thought of getting on a plane again had me wondering what kind of hairball I'd leave to my family if the plane went down. Little stuff like, would they know where to find the bill schedule? Or big stuff like, do I have enough life insurance? To entertain any of these thoughts is to start down an endless slope of self examination. Do I have my sh!t together? What if somebody had to pick up where I left off?

Once the administrative anxieties find their new level - the next logical step in the freak out is thinking of what happens to your loved ones. How you would miss out of their life's milestones, all the things you'd want them to know if you were gone-

-and then you think of leaving them a note in a safe place.

But leaving a piece of paper around seems foolish, because it could get thrown out - or lost, or opened by mistake after you've made it back safely.

I needed a note that would be inaccessible unless the worst happened - when it would become easily available.

And I thought...Blogger allows you to schedule posts in the future... 

That's where it started. I would write a final post that would publish automatically if the worst happened.

*   *   *

I started out by thinking I would write a last letter and quickly decided that a single message was not going to work out.

For one thing, I needed at least one other message. One that posted after my return date just in case I came home and forgot about the scheduled message. Sort of a tripwire message. If it published after I got back, it would be the reminder for me to log in and remove the other message.

Then I thought a single message was taking the easy way out. Like a Christmas letter from the beyond. Hi, everyone. I'm gone now - but I wanted to say a few things... I tried to write that a few times and couldn't make it work. There just wasn't an intro.

I decided on something more focused. Write something for each of them, to them. Those words came to me a lot easier. I would have the posts publish on each of their birthdays. I'd heard of a parent doing something like that, but rather than a series of messages - I'd just have one. I didn't want to linger. I didn't want to haunt.

So then, plan in hand - I went to work.

The tripwire message would publish first, but I knew I couldn't write it until I was done with the others.

*   *   *

First one up on the calendar: the Boy.

I'd tell him how proud I was of him - watching his all-in enthusiasm for the things he loved. How much he reminds me of my dad when he picks a task and runs it down. I'd tell him how I loved watching him happily working away on one of his projects. Or how I'd marvel at the questions he would ask - questions that a battalion of scientists might answer - but were utterly beyond his hapless father.

I would tell him he was my first child, my only son - and that I loved him beyond measure. I would ask him to forgive my failings as a father. Parental mistakes never leave you, and you never get the context to truly express how sorry you are for letting your children down - for being less than the father they deserved.

I would tell him that my world changed after my father was gone - but the responsibilities I'd left to him were things I needed to embrace. I wish my father were here, but I wish I'd realized I didn't have to wait for his help a lot earlier. I have surely made things hard for my boy by lording what I know over him. I should have encouraged more and chastised less.  I tried to be honest about what I knew and what I didn't - and I hoped he would do the same.

My lovely boy.

Be nice, work hard, be honest.

*   *   *

The first draft was terrible, even worse than what you're reading now. But it was therapeutic, in a way. Putting it down in words forced me to think about a lot of things and there was that feeling that I was doing something responsible. Checking something off on a list.

*   *   *

Next up on the calendar would be E.

I knew this one would be hard - partly because there were always trivial, administrative things that would crowd out what I wanted to say. Things like make sure to check on the life insurance policy. Things that were awkward to put in a public blog, but easier to pull out of my head than the real things I needed to say.

Like how I've loved our life together. How we've managed to be comfortable with each other just being how we are for almost two decades. How marvelous it was to watch E in a house full of bustle when we're spooling up for a holiday meal or some gathering. I know she loves that - and it reminds me so much of watching her mom ramp up for one of their family brunches. E loves to make a gathering, thrives on the disorder because it always works out. Left to my own devices, I'd probably tend towards hermit - but E craved contact and would fill the house with people.

I admired E's point of view. How she would always call you out on your bullsh!t. You always hear people say that parenthood changes you, makes you live for someone else, but marriage is a hell of a big shift, too. You share all your viewpoints with someone and learn which ones are indefensible. E's moral compass has trumped many of my antiquated viewpoints and I treasure those moments where one of E's off the cuff pronouncements has changed the way I view everything.

My post to E broke down on all sorts of levels. I kept coming up with random thoughts: Make sure you get a big, floppy dog. And I kept trying to avoid dwelling on regrets.

I'm sorry I never took you to Hawaii.
I'm sorry I won't be there when you need me. I know I swore I would never leave you.

I remember closing with gratitude, how marvelous it was to be with her. How I loved goofing off with her. How I thought she was a spectacular mom. How our late night chats about anything were the best conversation to be had - and I loved how she'd snap "Freak!" at me when I'd pester her.

And I loved pestering her.

I was so proud to see her get her Masters. Doubly so when she made the huge leap to her newest job. Plunging into the deep end after years of the stable and the known. So awesome. 

I love seeing her delight in the kids. Her enthusiasm and love for their every little thing.

*   *   *

There is too much.  This is what I kept learning. How do you sum up a life with family? How do you write a last anything to them?

I kept going back, revising. Evaluating if I'd said enough. Pruning out the sappy. It would never end.

*   *   *

Little e's birthday would be last.

My little happiness factory. Running to meet me - always ready with a huge hug. She made me a poster for my birthday. A rapid fire drawing of E, that said "Happy Birthday! Your Wife, E!" which is perhaps the greatest poster of all time.

I love how she devours books, delights in people and loves to get her groove on. I'm sure over time, she will stop calling me the World's Greatest Dad, but I will use her words as armor against whatever the world will throw at me forever.

I loved saving you from whatever problem you had, little e - but I know you have it in you to be your own solution to things. It's fine to ask for help - but you'd be surprised at what you are capable of.

I love how she will instantly ask after a word she doesn't know - because she wants to understand. I was the kid who'd stay quiet and hope I'd figure it out eventually, rather than risk a question. Keep asking your questions, there is no safety in ignorance.

Hold on to your joy. Be good to your brother. Take care of your mother.

*   *  *

So many things to say - and a note does not allow for the passage of time. You cannot give personal safety advice for a teenage daughter when she's still in elementary school.

Always with siblings, there must be parity. Have I said too much for one and not the other?

Had the worst happened, I wouldn't have known my boy would make the National Honor Roll for math. Something I'm immensely proud of. Not because of the competition, but because he leaned that if he stuck with something he could accomplish great things.

I treasured the pride in his eyes when my son held his medals. Remember that feeling when you are thinking of saying 'no' to something. You can do great things.

The thought that I could have missed that. It's too much.

Thinking of my little girl in her little tricycle, determined to finish the 4th of July parade - on her own.

These moments bubble up into a flood and soon I have to stop.

*   *   *

In writing, you kill your darlings. Pare the words back to the most essential - and exterminate the rest.

I'd done the opposite. Started with the idea of a single post and I'd turned it into four.

The first post, I just called "1" - because I couldn't manage to start it. This was the tripwire post. Once I got back it could serve as the warning post for me to stop the others. But the content was always up in the air. Hi, I might be dead right now...or I just forgot to stop this message from displaying. Keep watching this blog to see which is true.

Then a post for each of my family: 2, 3, 4 posts.

And then 5.

It would seem unjust to end the posts with one directed at a single family member, just because of the calendar. And I'd need to make clear that there would be no more messages. They should know when I was done.

So I started a fifth post - I'd settled on Christmas. Just a short message to tell them how I loved them - how I wished them the very best and that this would be my last post on the blog.

*   *   *

It was the editing that broke me.  I couldn't kill my darlings. I couldn't find ways to make them say everything I wanted. I couldn't make them equal because there was always something left out.

I re-listened to the radio story about that mother who sent the letters - it didn't end well. I knew that, but hearing the anguish in her daughter's voice - I knew a drawn out series of messages could play out in ways I couldn't control.

And then I thought about the likely scenario where I arrive safely home. The scenario where I delete all these messages - so my family won't see them. 

That made the least sense of all. Why would I hide these things from my family? Whatever final words I wanted to leave them with are things I should probably be saying while I'm still here.

The more I thought about it - the less I wanted to keep editing hidden blog posts. I figured I should do a better job of making sure I'm saying these things out loud. To my family.

When my father died, I remember people asking me "if there was anything they could do," and the only answer I had for them came years later.
Is there anything you could do? Yes.
If you love someone, the next chance you get - and I mean the very next chance you get 
- tell them so. 

*   *   *

About a week before our flight to Paris, I started deleting the posts, 5, 4, 3, 2.  All that angst and foolishness blown away with a few clicks.  It felt pretty good.

The '1' post was empty, save for the single '1' I'd put in there when I first had the idea.

Somehow, in the rush to go - I'd left that post in there & it published after I got back.

I got a comment asking after what it meant and I promised an explanation - so here it is.

I'm kind of glad '1' published by mistake. Helped me think about a lot of things that needed a little brainwork.

-But flying still scares the crap out of me.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Full Noddy

S'been awhile since I b!tched about work, so I'm gonna do that now.

For the most part, the past few months have been a straight up march towards rollout. Arwafn, the report Runner and I have been working on, is due to be flipped on - for realsies - on the day of the Q4 release, along with all the stuff Data, Sprint, & Heater have been cranking out.

The UX team did a big demo of all the stuff pre-launch (which I missed because little e was sick), but the overall response was positive. This launch will be an oddity for NerdHaven, since most of the functionality will be triggered site by site, when the clients have ramped up their data connections.

Normally, all the new stuff lands like a ton of bricks and post rollout, the devs spend a day putting out fires. This time, a lot of the new stuff was deployed months ago, but has only been turned on for a few customers. The fires are already long gone - and now the UX team are supposed to move onto the next new thing.

Since UX delivers the requirements so the devs can work, we're actually supposed to have started the next new thing awhile ago, so that the post rollout devs don't suddenly find themselves without stuff to do.

So... are we hosed?

The astute reader may have noticed I'd mentioned work by Sprint, Data, Heater, Runner & myself - but not Noddy.

Noddy has no work at all going out in the Q4 Release - which should horrify any self respecting professional. Nearly a full year of effort and what can they claim to have been working on?

Not a hell of a lot actually. But there is this one thing: I'll call it the Vee Project. Vee is something that Noddy seized on back in September as the Thing They Were Working On. It kept them out of our hair and - Amazingly - Noddy did seem to be making stuff.

In the abstract, the Vee Project involves our clients getting data out of a very precise machine, evaluating it and reporting select data bits to the government.

At some point, Noddy sits me down to explain this in excruciating detail and my first impression is Why the hell are we trying to solve this problem?

The clients appear to be getting data out of the machine by writing it down on a clipboard. Later they key this data into a government web app that tells them if they have to key in more details for a given data set.

Noddy tells me that our web app will be a copy of the government's web app - but we won't be able to transmit data to the government site until 2017, because the gov't website isn't set up to do that yet.

In other words, we can't get the initial data electronically (because it's on a clipboard), so our client will have to manually enter it into our application. Since our app cannot send data to the gov't site for over 2 years, our clients will then re-type their data into the gov't site.

This sounds unbelievably stupid - and I say this to Noddy. "Why would someone do this?"

Noddy is unmoved "they want to keep their data. The gov't site won't let them."

"Yeah," I say, "But they have to double enter their data to keep it. That's horrible."

* * * *
I'll spare you the play by play - but you get the idea. This is a problem for our users, but (as explained to me, at least) this is not a problem our software will actually solve. Our app will become another mouth to feed, when the original problem was our clients having to feed just one.

This is the problem Noddy has been working on since September - and over a month ago Product informed us that the Vee Project would be the number 1 priority for next year. In our regular reindeer games meeting, Data was conflicted over this. "You know Noddy is going to screw this up. Professionally, we can't allow them to screw up next year's big feature."

At this point, Data's talking to Sprint, Runner, and me. We've all seen Noddy do next to nothing on other projects. If the project is low priority, nothing is done at all. Once it becomes prioritized, Noddy fumbles along until they are given a partner - someone who actually gives a sh!t, like Sprint - and suddenly things start getting done. Not by Noddy, to be sure, they're still on Ebay like always - but you can count on Noddy to offer to help management and Product "with any questions they have."

Meanwhile, Sprint (or Data, or whoever is unlucky enough to get paired up with Noddy) grinds through the work, doing 100% of what should be 50-50.

It's happened before too often - hell, Runner and I got Noddy thrown off Arwafn because all he was doing was coat-tailing on our work.

Noddy's effing up the Vee Project - and saving the project effectively means saving Noddy, too. And nobody wants to save Noddy.

Data's a professional - they opt to take the bullet and pair up with Noddy. The Vee Project cannot fail.

With Data's involvement, things start happening immediately. The day after they start on the project, they discover that there is a way for us to get the initial dataset automatically, rather than from manual entry off a clipboard. The Vee Project goes from "bag of suck" to "wow!" after a single day of Data's analysis.

Noddy has been on the same project for almost four months and this avenue of inquiry has never occurred to them. I know this because I'd grilled them on it - and in response to "Where does the data on the clipboard come from? How do we get to that?" all I received was a blank look.

Noddy had been told the information came from a clipboard and that was the end of their analysis. Data contacted the originating device manufacturers, read the manuals, and did a rough survey of customers to determine if a good % of the originating devices are in use by our clients.

And that was day 1 of Data's involvement. Then they began setting up client interviews to tease out the nuts and bolts of getting data from the originating system all the way to the government website. In short order, there are a brace of client interviews about the Vee project. Data sets them up, surveys the participants and leads the discussion.

Noddy... creates a wiki page to store the notes from each session. If I were generous, I would say this is work that takes 15 minutes. At stand up, Noddy tells the team repeatedly that they are "transcribing the interview notes."

Now, I've done transcriptions for the Arwafn project and it can take ridiculous amounts of time. Runner and I started out writing down every word. Eventually, we realized that we were making new interviews faster than we were transcribing old ones. We paired it down to main take aways and supporting quotes and it was still a lot of work.

If Noddy was working on transcription, it could take awhile. Being Noddy - it could be a Long while. But weeks go by - and the only new text that appears on the wiki pages for each interview comes from Data. They're writing up bullet points - a sensible compromise - given what is needed and the amount of work to be done. Not to mention that they are essentially doing this entirely on their own.

At some point, Noddy adds a single list of bullet point notes to the wiki for a single interview. Out of a half a dozen interviews, Noddy did one - in bullet points - so that might be an hour or two of work.

As expected, the division of labor on the Vee Project is pretty much everything is on Data's shoulders. Noddy is showing up to meetings and not a lot else.

Early on, Noddy was actually doing stuff on the Vee Project. They'd made mockups of two web forms - essentially duplicates of the forms that exist on the government website. Building these forms would be asking our clients to double enter data in our site and the gov't site (since the gov't site doesn't have an API and won't accept data imports until 2017). I could see starting out working on these forms, but they are clearly not high value elements of our solution. To be fair, making them might help a UX person better understand the overall problem. I get that they would be written up. But again - they are a dead end - and they appear to be the only thing Noddy has done.

Around the first week in December Product calls us into a room to assess where we are at and how easy it will be to pivot from work like Arwafn to the new number 1 priority, the Vee Project. Noddy pipes up that we also need to have some work for Nachen, a batch of gov't related work that has traditionally been their bailiwick.

* * * *
This is typical Noddy. The Nachen stuff is convoluted and Noddy grokked up on it pretty good. No one is terribly eager to follow them, so Noddy is largely bulletproof when it comes to Nachen work. Any question will provoke reams of detailed blather from Noddy that few people have the will to investigate enough to pin down. YQA can school them, but almost nobody else. 
A portion of the Nachen work comes with a federal mandate, so its priority ranking is largely out of our hands. Noddy clearly enjoys telling everyone that space must be cleared in the schedule for their work. Since Noddy knows the Nachen release schedule, they get to tell Product what must be done and when. 
All of this might not be a big deal if Noddy was all the way up to speed and keeping Product in the loop with regular updates. They could be plotting work on the calendar and having it queued up ahead of time. The Nachen work is on a regular schedule - and while there is some variance - we could be ahead of the game. With Noddy, it's almost like each year's update is a complete surprise. 
Product is clearly struggling to figure out how much work they need to account for and when. Product is not happy.
* * *

Back to the meeting. Noddy throws out a cloud of uncertainty about Nachen work - Product flexes hard and pins down Noddy to a defined set of Nachen work that includes the must-haves. The work is not ready, but Noddy is put on notice that it needs to be before we go on winter break.

We have a big discussion about the Vee Project. We ultimately decide that there are two main approaches - the old, broken way that Noddy has started (the duplicate forms) and the new, awesome way (the automated flow that Data has been working towards). We know the automated way will take some time, so we decide to start with the old, broken way and we will plan on hooking those forms up to the new, awesome way as we go along.

Which means Noddy's forms will need to be ready to go before we go on break. Noddy is put on notice of this.

Then Product does an odd thing - they give us homework. I suspect Product is having trouble seeing the foundational research that our feature work is grounded on. On Arwafn, for example - Runner and I have interviews and notes, but there are no aggregate documents to show merged findings and trends so that product can see "yes, this feature is well grounded in research." Product wants some of this foundational research written up before we go too much further on the Vee Project. Since time is short - Product asks everyone on the UX team to pick a Vee Project interview and do a write up of data flow and task flow.

This is odd for lots of reasons, but it will get all of UX read into the Vee Project, and it will get Product a better picture of the common user problems coming out of Data's research. Each of us gets an assigned interview and we are told to have them done by the end of the second week of December.

Product sends us an email summarizing the work each of us is accountable for.

"Each of us" includes Noddy.

* * *

With four days to do my homework from Product - I need to listen to the recorded interview, write up some notes and turn them into two documents and post them to the wiki.

This is not hard. The only complication is that I'm really under-informed on the Vee Project. A lot of things that are said are things I am guessing at, or might misinterpret. Since all our documents will be posted on the wiki - I don't want to look stupid.

Neither does anyone else. Designers are a funny lot - and you can tell some of our UX team is sweating this work. Heater is positively terrified. Heater is more of a traditional business analyst, so these documents are way outside their comfort zone. They don't want to fail in front of product and they are coming over repeatedly to see what the rest of us are making - just to be sure. I have a lot of sympathy for Heater.

Noddy, on the other hand, spends most of the week doing their usual - looking busy. They talk with the offshore contractors about Nachen work, but you can tell they are making a meal out of a morsel. When the subject of our homework comes up - Noddy vacillates between saying they are working on it to saying they really need to start working on it. I'm starting to get the feeling they want help with it - and Runner and I are planning on posting our work as close to the due date as possible so Noddy doesn't repurpose ours and turn it in.

(This is how stupid things have gotten with Noddy. I would spend hours helping Heater if they asked for it, but Noddy? They know how to do this work, they just don't want to put effort into it.)

Noddy's going on a weekend getaway the day our homework is due and is complaining about how they haven't packed and how crazy their week is becoming. I just nod and keep on working. Towards the end of Thursday, Noddy is bemoaning all the things they have to do. It's just Noddy and I in the team room and I get the distinct impression that Noddy is working their way up to asking me to do their work for them. They're hoping I'll volunteer - and I pointedly refuse to do that. Earbuds in, head down. Screw you, Noddy. Do your goddamned work. Noddy finally finishes up with, "I guess I'll come in super early and get this done."

This - from a person who hasn't made it into the office before 9:45 in almost a month.

The next day I'm sick as a dog so I work from home - I think little e was sick, too. I'm done with my work but waiting to post it until later in the day. Noddy's flying out mid-day, so they will only be in the office until 11 or so. Given their usual arrival time, they'd better be early if they want to get anything done.

I'm IM'ing Runner on Friday - homework due day - and learn that Noddy rolled in around 10am and has asked Runner to do the work (in sort of a throwaway manner, like "it's not going to get done, unless you do it... *expectant pause*"). Mentally, Runner says F*&% that noise, and keeps to their own work.

At 2:30, I post my work to the wiki, noting that in the slots where Noddy's work would be- there are only <insert file here> tags.

* * *
Tuesday, December 16.

I'm working from home with what I suspect was the flu - and I get IM'ed by Atlas. They're getting the sense that there is some Vee Project work that is slipping and they want to know what I remember from the earlier meeting with Product. They've been trying to get in contact with Noddy, but only got their voicemail.

I'm straining to remember things when Atlas interrupts to say their phone is ringing - "That might be Noddy now."

Fifteen minutes later, I get IM'ed by Noddy.
You may need a glossary for this
  • Story = discrete unit of work for development 
  • Epic = group of stories that support a common feature 
  • RFD = Ready For Development. Story status that means UX is done with it and devs can work on it. 
  • Ready for Analysis/In Analysis = story statuses that mean UX is ready to start working on it or is still working on it. Devs consider these stories radioactive, since they don't know what the hell they will turn into yet. 
With that primer, I give you - The Full Noddy...

Noddy [9:17 AM]: murph

murph [9:18 AM]: Hey

Noddy [9:18 AM]: so were you at the meeting yesterday?

murph [9:18 AM]: Which meeting?

Noddy [9:18 AM]: [project]

murph [9:19 AM]: We had a prioritization meeting yesterday - I wasn't invited to a [project] meeting.
What's up?

Noddy [9:20 AM]: evidently there are some [Vee] stories that are neding some [requirements]
that they wanted to take
and was hoping you knew which ones they were

<aside>This is Noddy, asking me to tell them what work they are supposed to get done - on THEIR project. The one they've been on for over three months.</aside>
murph [9:21 AM]: I was linking up stories to the overview page - so in [our project tracker app] if you click on the [Vee] or [Nachen] links you should find lists of stories.
Wait, Product's email might have them. One sec.
Yeah, the email from the 9th. You want me to forward it?

Noddy [9:23 AM]: sure

murph [9:23 AM]: en route now

Noddy [9:25 AM]: hmm

murph [9:25 AM]: I guess it doesn't list exact story numbers, but Product's talking about which features they’re looking for

Noddy [9:26 AM]: just talked to Atlas and they said that I was supposed to have those stories done already and Product clearly has the due date as 12/19....

murph [9:27 AM]: These are just the [Vee Form1 & Vee Form2] - ?
Oh, the [submit data to Nachen], too - that's a beast

Noddy [9:28 AM]: well the [Nachen report] story
which we can't start unless we want to do [2012’s version]

murph [9:28 AM]: Are those done?

<aside>At this point, I was thinking Noddy owed product their data and task flows and a few stories for the Vee Project. Noddy's bringing up the topic of more Nachen work I'd forgotten about.</aside>
Noddy [9:29 AM]: what are those?

murph [9:29 AM]: The [2012’s version] stories

Noddy [9:29 AM]: they were talking about having me do all the leg work the other day
but they would have to give me a format to give it to them in
sounds like they are trying to pawn it off

murph [9:30 AM]: Who is 'they?'

Noddy [9:30 AM]: [the West Coast developers]
with [a former developer] gone
they might not know how to do it now

murph [9:31 AM]: Are the [Nachen reports] RFD (Ready For Development, i.e. done)? How many stories are there?

Noddy [9:31 AM]: just one
if they want me to do the tabulizing then no

murph [9:32 AM]: [Is it West Coast story] #438?

Noddy [9:32 AM]: if they are going to do it then yes for 2012
but we were hoping for 2013 due october 15
but delayed due to [an event in the news that has nothing to do with anything]

murph [9:33 AM]: If 438 is the right [Nachen report] story - it's still listed as In Analysis, so [West Coast] won't even be looking at it

murph [9:35 AM]: Why does it have comments from [a West Coast QA] in it?
Is that even the right story?

Noddy [9:35 AM]: it was a copy from an identical story a few years back

<aside>In other words, "I copied and pasted this story from last year's and didn't bother to remove testing notes or update anything. But it's "Ready For Dev"</aside> 
murph [9:36 AM]: But this is the right one?

Noddy [9:36 AM]: yes, it is

murph [9:37 AM]: It hasn't been touched in 3 months

Noddy [9:37 AM]: they were waiting for the 2013 [version]

murph [9:37 AM]: We have those, right?

Noddy [9:37 AM]: because they didn't want to do it again in a few months
the 2012 yes
had we known Nachen would have pushed this off so far, then maybe we would have taken the story earlier...
but that would have displaced something else we got done

murph [9:39 AM]: Product's asking for 2012 in their email

<aside>You remember earlier? Noddy was saying "they were waiting for the 2013 version. But on December 9th, Noddy was in a meeting with Product where product said "We're so out of date, we can't wait for the 2013 update. We need to put the 2012 updates in asap." Then Product emailed all of us and put Noddy's name by this item as a To-Do. 
Noddy was still waiting for the 2013 update to arrive from Nachen - because it allowed them to continue doing nothing. They've forgotten the meeting, ignored the email and twiddled their thumbs. This is the first moment they are actually reading it and they realize what they've been telling me is total crap. </aside>
Noddy [9:39 AM]: then let's make it so
I asked the [West Coast] team to send me a format for the data if they want to take the story
I just love how noone takes ownership
this is how stuff slips through the cracks

murph [9:40 AM]: Noddy, this is your story. You own it.
If they aren't responding, you need to bug them or raise it as a blocker

Noddy [9:41 AM]: yes, and how many times was it pushed aside

murph [9:41 AM]: With the story In Analysis, no dev is going to touch it

Noddy [9:41 AM]: I rallied for it for 3 months

murph [9:42 AM]: Noddy, looking at Product's email, they’re looking for a lot more than this story.
What do we have that is RFD for Nachen/[Vee]?

Noddy [9:42 AM]: I will have to look

murph [9:43 AM]: I'm looking at the [Vee] feature list now- I don't see anything as RFD.
You had stories with mockups, right? how close are those?

Noddy [9:44 AM]:
Most need a few [requirements] then they are good to go

murph [9:44 AM]: I see 6 stories - did Product want all of them by the 19th?

Noddy [9:44 AM]: I had not added the [requirements] becasue I was told to hold off

murph [9:44 AM]: by who?

Noddy [9:44 AM]: Product
becasue they were the "old broken"
and they wanted us to do the "new awesome"

<aside>This is absolute bullsh!t. Product told Noddy exactly the opposite on the 9th.</aside>
murph [9:45 AM]: Well, they’ve clearly come around - remember that meeting from early Dec? these were the first step towards [Vee]

Noddy [9:45 AM]: now they wants the old broken

murph [9:45 AM]: Then in Jan we were going to hook up the dynamic stuff

Noddy [9:45 AM]: but they has has me tasked on everything else
and Nachen
and [offshore]
and the soup of the day

murph [9:46 AM]: Then the time to cry out isn't three days before they expect this stuff
jesus, Noddy

Noddy [9:46 AM]: just getting [offshore devs] set up

murph [9:46 AM]: What the hell? You'd been doing [Vee] since before thanksgiving
If Product just wants a basic form we could have given them an RFD by now.
What can we give them by Friday?

Noddy [9:47 AM]: I forgot that the [requirements] were not done
I was going to finish it in the next 30 in
it is that short

<aside>It is absolutely not that short.</aside>
murph [9:48 AM]: Plus validation, that's not quick.
I didn't think the [Vee form 2] was that short, either.
Do we have all the [latest version of Nachen] stuff?
RFD, I mean?

Noddy [9:48 AM]: [Vee form 2] is not in that path

murph [9:49 AM]: Okay, so no [Vee form 2].
That's good.

Noddy [9:49 AM]: the [latest version of Nachen] stiff that breaks is
I also have other additions that are ready as well

murph [9:49 AM]: What stories for [latest version of Nachen] are RFD?

Noddy [9:49 AM]: gave Product a longlist

murph [9:50 AM]: more importantly, what stories for [latest version of Nachen] aren't RFD and need to be by Friday?

Noddy [9:50 AM]: I will look into it now
make sure that they are ready
and queued up

murph [9:51 AM]: And the [Send data to Nachen], no way that's happening by Friday

<aside>I'm starting to freak out at this point. Product's email has a LOT of action items assigned to Noddy. I knew they were behind on some items, but this is a large wedge of work that looks to be in the ditch.</aside>
Noddy [9:51 AM]: the [Send data to Nachen] stuff is done

murph [9:51 AM]: RFD and good to go?

Noddy [9:51 AM]: that was ready months ago
on the UI side yes

murph [9:52 AM]: Which story is it?

Noddy [9:52 AM]: there are several
search for direct [Send data to Nachen]
there is an epic

murph [9:53 AM]: Epic [under our team project], right?

Noddy [9:53 AM]: lemmie check

murph [9:54 AM]: I see two stories listed as Ready for Analysis, but they have [requirements]

Noddy [9:54 AM]: yes, that looks correct
they are RFD

<aside>This is another pet peve of mine. Noddy doesn't do the work and doesn't progress it properly so the team knows what to do. If the story was marked RFD, somebody downstream would have looked at it by now and we'd know if it needed more work or not. Since it wasn't tagged properly, the evaluation of "is it RFD?" will have to start now. </aside>
murph [9:55 AM]: These look like they need tech review, but [requirements] is a good start

Noddy [9:55 AM]: already went over them with Big Dog and OneTwentyEight

murph [9:55 AM]: Right, but a review with them would be good. They were pinging me yesterday about a story they reviewed over a month ago. They're not going to remember

Noddy [9:56 AM]: Big Dog says we need to meet with the architechture team to decide on a modle to use for hte backend

murph [9:56 AM]: Plus - knowing thiese are up in priority will help them focus on the backend rampup needed.
I don't even know if Big Dog/OneTwentyEight are in later this week

Noddy [9:56 AM]: I have been pushing this for several months and getting blown off

murph [9:57 AM]: Well, your time has come with a vengeance. Acc'ding to Product, this stuff is up

Noddy [9:57 AM]: kinda sucks that the moment I get a few days off they want to focus on in and have me work on it

murph [9:58 AM]: Noddy, Product's email is from the 9th.
This is sudden, but not that sudden

Noddy [9:58 AM]: and I have been swamped with other stuff as well since then

murph [9:59 AM]: I get that, but the time to squawk about that was on the 9th, not the 16th

Noddy [9:59 AM]: I even came in on friday (my first day of PTO) to work on it

murph [9:59 AM]: This is going to be brutal

<aside>This is me freaking out. Product wanted a LOT to be ready and Noddy has practically nothing.</aside>
Noddy [9:59 AM]: how many devs do we have?

murph [10:00 AM]: ?

Noddy [10:00 AM]: are Big Dog and OneTwentyEight working the next two weeks?
How about the [West Coast] devs?

<aside>This is Noddy's smokescreen attempt. "Hey! there won't be devs in the office over the holidays, so my deadlines don't matter."</aside>
murph [10:01 AM]: I dunno, I'm thinking Big Dog is out at least.
But I don't think that's the point - I think Product wanted this stuff in the can prior to the break

Noddy [10:02 AM]: So the programming elves are gooing to be in working on the code then..

murph [10:03 AM]: Noddy, I don't set the deadlines - if you want to debate the due date, take it up with Product. I'm just saying their email says they wants all that by Friday.
If that can't/shouldn't happen - the person who should be advised of that is Product

Noddy [10:03 AM]: OK
I will make it so
and I will talk to them...if they are available

murph [10:04 AM]: Let me know if they change priorities.

Noddy [10:04 AM]: OK
sorry to vent on you

murph [10:04 AM]: No prob.

Noddy [10:05 AM]: are you taking PTO?

<aside>Translation: "Will you be around to help me with these?"</aside>
murph [10:05 AM]: Between Christmas and New Years. Today I'm WFH, because I have the croup-y cough that's going around - and I imagine folks don't want me to share.
<aside>Translation: No Effing Way.</aside> 
Noddy [10:07 AM]: well I have a terrible headache
and need to catch up on my sleep
my flight [home] on Sunday was canceled and I was forced to spend the night in the airport
then fly to [hub city] and take a bus to get home

murph [10:08 AM]: You slept in the [resort town] airport?

Noddy [10:08 AM]: and after a weekedn in [resort town]
no Denver

murph [10:08 AM]: stlll, ick

Noddy [10:08 AM]: yes
closed the airport

murph [10:09 AM]: Good times

Noddy [10:09 AM]: OK, Ill get the [requirements] done for the [Vee] form
that should placate the beast

murph [10:10 AM]: And talk with Product. They need to know what's what.

Noddy [10:10 AM]: yes

* * *

And while that is a lot (an awful lot) the Full Noddy experience is still not complete. Because there is a backstory to that last exchange that you truly need to appreciate.

Noddy's saying how awful their trip back from the resort town was - but I already know. The reason I know is because Runner told me.

How does Runner know about Noddy's crappy flight home?

Because, on Monday (Dec 15th) while Runner was in Tennessee on a site visit - Noddy texted them at 6:15am to tell them that they "wouldn't make it home until the evening" so Noddy wouldn't be in to the office like they'd planned.

Oh, and they wanted Runner to contact Product and tell them that Noddy wouldn't be able to do their homework.

There is so much wrong going on there, I need to unpack that.
  1. Texting a co-worker's cell in general - sans prior permission, this is not okay. 
  2. Texting a co-worker at 6:15 in the goddamned morning. 
  3. Texting a co-worker at 6:15 in the goddamned morning when they are on the road. 
  4. Texting a co-worker who is a parent at 6:15 in the goddamned morning when they are on the road. I dunno about you, but if I'm away from home and get a text at 6:15am, I'm thinking somebody's had a car accident, or my kid is missing. 
  5. Texting a co-worker to tell them you are going to be out of the office. Seriously, you have a smart phone and NerdHaven has webmail. You need to contact the office? Email your supervisor and your team. Runner isn't your goddamned secretary. 
  6. Texting a co-worker to ask them to tell a higher up that you are going to miss a deadline. 
    1. Chickenshit. Tell the higher ups your goddamned self. 
    2. The work was due the previous Friday anyway, so dude - it's been late for three days now. Like you need another update. 
    3. You have a smartphone and webmail - why are you texting a third party, dumbass? 

But the capstone to all of this - the cherry on this sh!tpile sundae, is the reflexive bit of bullcrap that Noddy just couldn't resist laying down. Needlessly, as it turns out.

Noddy texts Runner to say they won't be in to the office until late because of their air travel problems. Runner has a smartphone and checks to see what delays are happening out of [resort town] and finds the flight trackers aren't agreeing with what Noddy's saying. While it's probably true that Noddy slept in the Denver airport like they said, we know for a fact that they made it home during daylight hours.

How? Because Noddy's facebook page shows them in a movie theatre - in town - standing next to some dude dressed as Gandalf.

Noddy's a huge Hobbit fan - and on the 15th the movie theaters were offering a three movie marathon that started around noon. The picture's timestamp shows he was at the theater at 3pm.

Noddy is so epically full of sh!t.

And again, there was no reason to lie. "I'll be out all day" was all he needed to say and that would be the end of it. His homework documents for Product were already late, so having an alibi for Monday doesn't help him a bit. People might have been looking for him, but a simple "I was flying back on Monday" would have covered it. No, he had to make up some dramatic story- and then completely kneecap it with his own stupidity via social media.

So now you know.

That's the Full Noddy. Full throttle awful, all across the board.

And they've been like this ever since I started here. Why UXDir ever put up with this is utterly beyond me.

But the winds of change are blowing - and this latest collapse has not gone unnoticed by the higher ups.

Yesterday, when checked the wiki for Noddy's homework being posted, it still said

<insert file here>

Stay tuned.

Monday, October 20, 2014


So Nerdhaven is hiring.

I've put out feelers to UXers I know - but most of them are placed.

Stimpy's at Candy Land until December, I'm hoping that Candy Land snaps them up - otherwise I want them to come here. They'd be good.
The UX community is not a large place, but in my corner of the world it is positively incestuous. NerdHaven posted two UX positions and suddenly my LinkedIn inbox is lighting up like a Christmas tree.

First comes Gumby - a veteran of CorpWorld who bailed out of Usability when the first round of killings began. They'd moved to a department whose job it was to step in when inter-depatmental disagreements threatened a project. It says a lot about CorpWorld that there was such a group - and that they were busy. Gumby is asking me out of the blue for information about NerdHaven.

They want the UX Director job. It's the first one out of the chute. I'm not sure how I feel about that. Gumby was solid in UX, but as a manager, I'm more than skeptical.
How to respond? You tell  the truth. You wanna know about NerdHaven? I'll tell you. It's awesome.

Next is Apok -  I like Apok, I hope they do well. I think they'd landed at a bank - and I can't see that as being a good slot for anyone interested in innovation.
How to respond? You tell  the truth. You wanna know about NerdHaven? I'll tell you. It's awesome.

Then comes Newf "Hi, I don't remember if we worked together at CorpWorld, but I know two people you do know there, so.."

Newf was a member of CorpWorld's D-Business.

I was in the same room with them twice - I remember them, and what I was asking them to do. They don't remember me at all, but they'd like help in landing a gig at Nerdhaven.
I know exactly zero about their capabilities or interpersonal skills.
How to respond? You tell  the truth. You wanna know about NerdHaven? I'll tell you. It's awesome.

Then there's G-Man.
G-Man ran CorpWorld's D-Business group. I think Apok works for them. Which is awkward. G-Man wants to be UXDirector.
Again, solid design chops - not so sure about their UX-ing - and as a manager, I always thought they were too meek. It might have been CorpWord's moribund process, though. Not really much opportunity to take the reins when every decision needed a dozen sign-offs.
How to respond? You tell  the truth. You wanna know about NerdHaven? I'll tell you. It's awesome.

And then there's H.
I got pinged by them on LinkedIn. They'd mentioned applying at one of NerdHaven's sister offices way off in who-the-hell-knows. They'd asked if there were any jobs in my neck of the woods.
How to respond?


I tell the truth, mostly. NerdHaven is hiring a UXer. I didn't mention the UXDir job, though. Because - that would be too terrifying. I don't think H would actually relocate. Last I heard, they were on the west coast. It would be quite a jump for them to come here.

This morning I get an email from a NerdHaven staffer. It's about a phone message left for me.

NerdHaven doesn't have phones at desks - at least, not in project rooms like mine. As, in - you can't call NerdHaven and ask for me, because I don't have an extension.
NerdHaven also doesn't have a receptionist. You get a random external line and takes yer chances.

The phone message is - of course - from H.
This could only mean they are applying at NerdHaven - and the only posted job at the moment is the UX Dir job.

Which means H wants to be my boss again.

And leaving a message for me is them asking me to help them out on that.

Let's tally that up shall we?

Gumby (hmm), Noddy (the Sum of All Fears), Suit (ack), G-Man (hmmm), and now H (The only person not worse than Noddy).

God Almighty, I hope there's a larger pool of senior UX applicants.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Happy Dance

Stimpy got the Candy Land gig.

It's a short run, but still awesome.