Monday, October 20, 2014

H

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.

Rockin'


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Two Tables and a Dropped Ball

It is one thing not to know, it is quite another to not even suspect.


About a month ago, I'm getting pinged by the Bass - a really excellent customer relations rep. The Bass has been aces at getting Runner and I access to clients interested in the Arwafn.

In one of our sessions, I'd griped to the universe at large about a particular feature request. Clients almost universally wanted Arwafn data separated into two groups. 

Conceptually, this is a dead simple UX request. Write it up, ship it!

But y'know: devil, details...

In order to actually split the data, I have to associate a classification of group A or group B to all of the possible data elements in report.

No problem. This data exists in the world. Somebody has compiled a list of which elements are in A or B.

Right?

I'd thought so, months ago... until I asked our SMEs who were like "Gosh, I dunno... I think it's just something you kind of know."

Point of order: Arwafn has over 2,000 data elements.

Nobody just knows that many classifications. They might know their favorites, and might be able to spot the ones that just seem wrong. But no way - there has to be a list somewhere.

So I search for such a thing and find partial lists and dodgy compilations - but nothing I could hang a hat on and present to customers. "Trust me, I found it on the interwebs...!"

Frustrating. A known set of data that is unavailable in a reliable, complete form.

So, I'm griping about this to the Bass - and they, being cool, file that away.

Days later, they IM me to say that their clients rely on a published text that gets them what they need on Arwafn grouping.  I'm like: Score! Where do I get such magic?

An hour later, I'm walking into my local megaBookstore and pulling a copy of this magical tome off the shelf.

-and trying not to let it get blown away by a stiff breeze. MegaBookstore only had the pocket edition of this reference - about 3 inches on a side - in 7 point type.

But I plow in and rapidly determine that PocketGuide will get me about 10% of what I need. But it is a published authority. A start.

Plus, a certain number of the values can be derived when applying them to similar data elements. 10% might turn into 20% or so.

At this point, I'm tipping down the rabbit hole and start doing more research. I blunder across a government database that is intended to allow for publication searches, but their header system nicely classifies the data it finds... under group A or group B.

Double Score!

Details beget details and soon I learn that the Arwafn data element list will have Groups A, B, C, D, E, F and possibly others. I only care about A & B, but with 2,000 plus elements, classifying each one will take a long time, regardless of what each value turns out to be.

I find another database in the UK that fills in more gaps - and then the big score: I find a government listing of data elements that is pretty much my Arwafn list - and it has database codes.

Winner! Better still, it has aliases for a huge chunk of my data elements. A ton of things I could not find are definitively associated with a radically different name. Searches on those names get me a classification for everything. It takes three days, plus another three to proof it and double check. 

It is not 100% but this is AGILE. We'll make this happen and improve it as we go.

But during the proofing, I notice something odd. I'd rigged some conditional formatting in a spreadsheet so I could compare my Arwafn element list vs the government element list.

And I see a bunch of things in our list that look like typos. Element names that are close to what I think they would be, but are clearly either alternate spellings or just plain mistakes.

And there are additional elements on the govt list. Things that we might want to have on our list. Some are clearly duplicates - but perhaps its better to list the same thing on the list multiple times so people can find it under the name they prefer.

It's not a huge list of discrepancies - about 50 - but my Arwafn list is currently being used by our customers in other features. If we're wrong, we are visibly wrong in front of clients.

This is bad. I think.

I mention this to Data in one of our collaboration sessions. Data is very skeptical that this is possible. And Data is a very precise kind of person. I respect their opinion, and let's face it - I'm literally cobbling together some sources into a Franken-list. 

Also, the government list I found was dated January of this year. We may already have a process in place to address this and we just haven't caught up with the new list. I really don't know, but that's why I'm checking with Data.

Meeting over - I go back and check my tables in excel. The Arwafn table vs the Govt table.

And we really do look like we have some mistakes. The Govt table looks like it has the odd typo here and there, but most of the oddness is on our end. 

And I know I pulled our list from production code.

I go do it again, and do a compare to make sure I'm not seeing things. 

I'm not.  So I copy just the 50 odd records into a file and send them to Data. Just a "Here's what I found" kinda message. Data will at least be able to tell me if I'm nuts.

A few days pass and Data pings me back "I've had a look at the file you sent. You need to set up a meeting with you, me and Noddy."

*     *     *     *

Okay, so the first thing you need to know is that part of the Reindeer Games that have been going on the past few months have involved Data avoiding Noddy almost entirely. A meeting with Data in it would typically begin with the question "are we alone?" Meaning: is everyone I can see on the video monitor everyone there is? or are there other people in room but off-camera?

Subtext: Is Noddy in the room?

The answer was generally, "Yes, who you see is all there is," but if Noddy was on the meeting invite, Data would skip the meeting so long as they had any professional cover.

Data's a pro - and they don't shirk work - but they dread working with Noddy more that most of us. Probably because they've put up with them longer  - seen more of their bullsh!t, watched too many good features die under their care.  

But this time, Data wants to meet with Noddy.

I'm wondering whether I should hide or get popcorn.

*     *     *     *

When the appointed day arrives, Runner, Noddy and I file into our conference room and dial up the west coast. Data's there and we get down to biz.

I start by stepping through what I've done to find these discrepancies and Data (sharp as ever) identifies a flaw in the way I've associated the two tables with each other. I just eyeballed them, because they line up almost perfectly. Govt table has a few more values, but inserting a few blank records into the Arwafn table makes the two virtually identical. They are clearly originating from a common list.

To Data, this is not much to count on - they want ID numbers, standardized codes, then you know that one element is truly the same thing as another. Because the codes match. 

Display text? Please, you're embarrassing yourself.

But even with this ding, Data can see we have an issue. Our list should not have typos in it - and it should match the government list.

And it doesn't.

I'm thinking this is Data's bailiwick - they are Data, after all. So I start in like an innocent, "so is there a regular process in place to check our table with the government table?"

Data is blunt. "Clearly there isn't, but there should be."

Now, I'm getting nervous. I really like Data, but my imprecision in earlier dealings with them have left me feeling like I'm always annoying them with dumb questions. Now I've come to them with a question that sounds like I'm saying their house is not in order.

I.... uh... what do we do now?  

All I wanted was to give Arwafn its grouping feature. It's just a bunch of typos, is this really a big-

"So, Noddy..." Data is staring daggers through the vidcom, "How do you usually handle this sort of thing?"

Standing neck hair. 

Lightbulbs.

Data's mad. Just not at me.

Data's grokked the issue right off the bat. Me, I'm just catching up. This data element table I'm using for Arwafn originates from a module (that I'll call Nachen) that Noddy is the go-to for. 

Anyone wants to know about the Nachen module, they always go to Noddy. They're a dork in lots of ways, but Noddy knows all about Nachen.

Except, this table and its list of data clearly has a good chunk of fail in it and Noddy clearly has no idea why that would be so.

Noddy is even slower than I to realize that this meeting is aimed entirely at them.

"Uh..."

Data is merciless. "What is your procedure for checking up on this data and ensuring that it is up to date?"

Noddy, as ever, pivots: "Well you know this government agency, they are always making errors that I have to remind them about."

"No. Most of these issues are on our side. How do you go about making sure we are current? This list murph was drawing on was from January, eight months ago. How do you go about getting us current?"

Noddy squirms a bit, but Data has set the hook. We write up action items and all of them belong to Noddy.
  • Noddy will follow up with Pooka, one of our DB gurus and see about what is involved in getting our table updated.
  • Noddy will also look into making sure this is a full and correct list of corrections.
Noddy slinks out and Runner and I exchange looks of 

OOOoooooooohhhh

and

DaaaaAAAAAAaaaammnn!

*     *     *     *

Two days ago - I get an email right after I leave work for the day. Pooka has been fired.

I've seen Pooka get into some regular disagreements with our Devs about coding approaches. Pooka's skillset is databases and not much else. Our Devs do it all. 

Apparently, Portal had put Pooka on notice that their productivity was not what it could be. Pooka had been volunteering for extra work here and there, but I didn't pick up on their anxiety.

The day of our team photo - including Pooka - was the day stuff came to a head.

Pooka was gone.

Sad for them, but I'd trust Portal's call. They are fiercely intelligent and don't put up with slackers.

*     *     *     *

So it's today. Our regular UX team meeting is actually occurring, and that means everyone is there - (well, except Heater). Which means Data and Noddy are in the same room for the first time in about three weeks.

We talk UX turkey - map out how impossible it will be to get all our work done by the end of the quarter and I'm gearing up to ask Sprint to look at my belated prototype-

-And Data speaks up.

"So, Noddy... Do you have anything to report on updating the Arwafn table?"

Noddy turns to the screen and it is instantly clear to everyone that they have completely forgotten the Arwafn table, their action items, the meeting from three weeks ago, hell - their own name.

Noddy is a deer in the headlights.

Then they slide into their usual line of bullcrap - because its a default setting for them.

"Well, I don't have anything new to report. You know how it is getting in touch with government agencies..."

Absolutely no one thinks this to be anything other than crap.

Data leans in. "No. You were to look into getting corrections done to our list. You don't need an outside agency for this."

Noddy starts talking about how they'd spoken to Pooka, how they'd tried to get the government agency to make corrections.

"Again. No. This is about correcting our list."

At this point, I jump in. Pointing out the obvious. "Our list had typos. We need to fix that. There are also some additions that could be duplicates or could be true additions."

Noddy launches into ever more elaborate evasions and Data just keeps pouncing.

"What have you done since murph surfaced this issue? What has been done?"

Noddy refuses to concede the obvious - they've done absolutely nothing. 

We end the meeting. Mostly out of exhaustion. Pinning a bullsh!t artist is a lot of work.

*     *     *     *

Back in our team room, Noddy is trying to make nice. "murph, that list of corrections you had, do you still have that?"

I about hit the roof. I attached a copy of this list to the meeting which is still in Noddy's outlook calendar. The day after the meeting, I emailed them a revised copy of the corrections- along with the meeting notes and their two action items.

They have done nothing with any of this and now they are asking me if I might happen to have a copy.

Without a word. I do an outlook search and instantly find the message I'd sent them. I'm about to send it to them, when Noddy stops me. "Oh, is this it?" they gesture towards their screen.

I walk around to their monitor and see a spreadsheet of mine.

It is a spreadsheet about an entirely different subject matter. It would be easy to think that one spreadsheet might look like another, but this particular one of mine is absolutely, obviously, one that has nothing to do with the Arwafn element table.

I cannot hide my irritation at this point. "No. That is entirely the wrong kind of data. Look at it."

Noddy is trying to look busy and can't even manage a decent attempt. 

The issue I'd found is not a huge deal. The heavens will not fall if it is not corrected. But it absolutely should be corrected, and doing so would not have taken much effort on their part.

Worse than their abject failure to do anything is their attempt to make it seem like they have.

Noddy has utterly besh!tted themselves - yet they are still looking us in the eye and acting like they haven't.

I end up IM'ing Data and telling them about the whiff on the spreadsheet. 

They offer a succinct 'OMG.'

Which is pretty much how the rest of UX is feeling about the situation.

There's messing up, there is completely humiliating yourself-

- and then there's The Full Noddy.

Epic.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Thrill of the Upgrade


Sign for package.
Open box.
Turn on.
Log in with appleID.
Request two factor ID code be sent to old phone.
Wait.
Wait.
Wait.
Code never shows up.
Restore from backup proceeds anyway

21 minutes later...

Mailbox migration with 2FA
On Laptop, log into Google Account.
Generate app specific password.
On iPhone, Log into Mailbox.
Get told to enter Google authenticator code.
Go to Google authenticator app.
Realize that it it is not configured.

On Laptop, log into Gmail account.
Go to Account Settings.
Go to Security.
Click "Move to another phone."
Select iPhone.

On iPhone - go to Google authenticator.
Click add account.
Click scan barcode.

Back on Laptop, click continue.
Barcode displays.
Use iPhone to scan barcode.
Google Authenticator accepts barcode and displays 6 digit code.
Copy 6 digit code from Google authenticator.
Return to Mailbox, past 6 digit code in.

One Gmail account complete.

Go back to Google account and revoke unneeded app specific password.

Repeat above for each gmail account.

Tweetbot
Fire up TweetBot
Login fails
Log in through Twitter.
Request 2FA code
Receive 2FA code
Key in 2FA code.
Re-authorize app.

Accompli
Add account
Enter email address
Enter password
Success!



IT'S LIKE MAGIC.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Reindeer Games

Above a certain level, everything is politics.

I've been a worker bee all of my professional life. Never thought of climbing sunshine mountain and going for a management job. I have a certain "grab the reins" mentality in a number of areas, but true management is (in my opinion) a very specific skill set. One I don't feel I have.

Mostly because I've worked for some truly terrible managers. My last job, the Boss was supremely competent at all kinds of technical things - but they were truly terrible at the people part. The part where they were supposed to, well, manage.

Communication: My old Boss was impossible to reach. When you did get their time, you would pile on every pending thing you had, because God knows when you would see them again. This would take up their full attention and invariably make them late for one of their seemingly endless meetings.

Delegation: When you are a manager, you have staff that does things. You verify that they have done those things, maybe help them when they are stuck - but you don't do your staff's work for them. My old Boss would do this all the time. A problem would arise, the staff would begin handling it - only to discover that the Boss had already started a different approach without telling them.

Doing the Managerial Crap: My last Boss had a problem employee - Moorlock - and this one employee had such a toxic personality that the rest of the department refused to speak to them. Moorlock would routinely fly into a tantrum when tasked with work - announce their intention to find another job, and storm out. As a manager, you just can't let that go. It's probably the worst part of the job, but you have to lean into those things and deal with them. Untold damage was done to the IS department morale and productivity - and my former Boss did nothing.

It's easy to identify bad management, but that in no way convinces me that I would be able to do these things. I think too many times a good employee is rewarded with a management role without an understanding that they will be giving up their former role. It's not "your old job with more pay" it's a totally different job.

Today was UXDir's last day. While I absolutely loved working for them - if I were to be honest, UXDir is a pretty poor manager of staff. They hate the admin stuff with a passion (and I can't blame them) - so they pretty much don't do it. Their communication style is much like my old Boss: if you can get in a room with them, your every question will be answered. But you won't be in the room with them often, so make the most of it when you can.

They also were pretty sub-par on Doing the Managerial Crap. Noddy was exhibits A, B, & C. When I'd first dared to broach the subject of Noddy's lack of productivity - UXDir offered to move Noddy off our project.

This was good for a start, but my expectation had always been that UXDir would circle back and have the necessary conversation with Noddy. To wit: "You need to get off your @ss, pronto." That conversation has clearly never happened - and with UXDir leaving today, it never will.

The lack of follow up has created some very high-school like moments over the past few months. Runner, Sprint and I - freed from the obligation to invite Noddy to our project meetings, have pointedly not invited them. For a short time, this could be justified as Noddy had their project (whatever it was) and we had ours. But Noddy is no fool, and started asking us "is there a meeting? Can I come?" which creates a truly awkward situation.  Yes, we're meeting, but...

My inviting Noddy to our client interviews nearly had Runner throttling me, but was a direct result of this awkwardness. I couldn't look Noddy in the eye and say they shouldn't be in our interviews - because they should be. Any UXer in the company should be welcome to sit and listen in. Learning directly from our clients. The entire team can benefit from a common understanding of what our clients want. Right?  Except Noddy ignores decorum, common sense, and basic decency to the point where their fellow team members want to hurl them bodily out of the room.

So we begin scheduling even client interviews without Noddy. It's a professional shunning, tacitly encouraged by management. And it is juvenile.

If Runner and I have a meeting with Sprint, we will say nothing in our team room - then slip out of the room one at a time.  We book meetings in the far end of the building. Partially because the far rooms have natural light - but in no small measure because we are less likely to have Noddy walk in on us. Are we meeting? Can I come...?

UXDir has let this go on without any visible involvement. They may have admonished Noddy to stay out of our interviews, but that is not solving anything. Avoiding direct conflict has merely caused low level conflict on a daily basis. No, I won't invite Noddy - because the boss said I don't have to.

I can only imagine what Noddy is thinking. They must know that there are project meetings they are not involved in. They can see their team mates regularly going off to work on things without them. Noddy absolutely frustrates me to work with, but I genuinely have sympathy for them. This situation should be sorted out in broad daylight.

I would imagine a manager would schedule a meeting with Noddy and spell it out for them. "Look, your productivity is less than half that of any of your co-workers. You need to produce actual work product. You are letting your teammates down."

Noddy's lack of social graces could be forgiven if they would only do their job. If they were laying down quality work on a regular basis - a lot of my frustrations with them would go away.

But nothing was done.

And not that a manager should ignore Noddy's lack of professionalism - sleeping in meetings, playing with their phone during meetings, and generally showing a lack of interest in things that are absolutely their concern.

And nothing was done.

Which sounds like I'm just slagging on the UXDir - and that's not fair. UXDir is one of the most inspiring people I've worked for. I've never worked for someone who encouraged us to try things, even if we fail. "Failing means you learned something, right?"

And UXDir is a master of slashing through the BS in a discussion. "Why are we discussing this problem? This is the wrong problem to solve!"

I truly suck at that - I go down rabbit holes all the time, utterly missing the fact that the real problem is right in front of me. I wish I was even half as good as UXDir at identifying the root problem.

UXDir is excited about making good software. "This'll be awesome!" and off they go into another charge. I don't know how many scraps they go into trying to improve our product, but I know they didn't shy away from them. Not until the end, at least.

UXDir said they were pretty burned out at the end. Fighting against the ubiquitous faction of more-of-the-same. Give us more of what we already have! Never mind the obvious problems that our clients are always complaining about. 

Change is hard, asking for investment in the unknown is even harder. Part of UXDir's job is to press for these things - and endure all the pushback.

UXDir has done that - and they are worn out. Long years at NerdHaven have earned them a lot of respect - but they've made more than a few professional adversaries. I'd slowly started to appreciate this - the stray comment here and there - and I could see that all was not sweetness and light at that altitude.

Which is probably the very worst part of a management job. Office politics. Butting heads against your co-workers turns into not getting invited to meetings with them. Decisions get made without you and soon you wonder what you have to do to get "in the room."

What the UX team has been doing to Noddy - NerdHaven's management team has been doing to UXDir. Awhile ago, UXDir basically volunteered to leave on the eve of a minor re-org. "Look, if you're looking to make changes - you can write me out of the equation at the same time. I just need a severance package." NerdHaven didn't want to do the severance, so UXDir stayed on - but started looking for work.

A little over a month ago, they found it - on the West Coast, not far from NerdHaven's other office, where Sprint works.

So now they are going.

I got called into Portal's office the other day, to catch up on things. Really, Portal is checking in with me on how things are going on my team. I suspect that Portal is working an angle, but not in a malicious way. Portal wants another source of information on things, I'm happy to be that.

I'm flattered by the attention: Portal wants to see me! And Portal is a great source of information about the wider world of NerdHaven. Our discussions so far have involved Portal saying they've heard good things about my work (score!) and me telling Portal how utterly useless Noddy is.

I get to vent, Portal gets the inside skinny on how things are going. Win-win.

This time, Portal is re-assuring me that UXDir's departure does not mean NerdHaven is shifting its focus away from UX. They then detail a number of items that UXDir could have done better. They are professional about it - and say things I'd agree with - and they point out that whatever could have been done about Noddy in the past, it clearly has not been done. Which means the new UXDir will start from zero with Noddy. The good news is, the new UXDir will be part of a managerial food chain that now involves people who will do something about poor performers.

They ask me if I think anyone on the team will want to apply for UXDir's job. I know of no one who wants to, but I mention Sprint as a possibility. They are the most senior UXer, a rockstar on the team and everyone respects them.

I also mention my anxiety that Noddy will apply for the job. Portal all but assures me that will not happen. So long as the decision is made by folks within NerdHaven, Noddy would be a fool to try. Noddy is neither liked, nor respected by anyone at NerdHaven.

Shortly after talking with Portal - I get an email on my phone. It's from Suit, a NerdHaven manager I joke around with in the breakroom from time to time. I'd heard from them a lot in the past few weeks - asking about some of the Arwafn features - or how we track things in our project - and I'd tried my best to be helpful.

Suit was pleased by the info and I was glad to know something I did in our tracking software was actually useful to someone.

But an email from them on my phone meant they were emailing me personally.

I opened the email - it's from Suit's LinkedIn account:

You may have heard that UXDir is ending a 14 year career with NerdHaven. As they start a new career on the West Coast, many of us find it a sad moment indeed. 
But for those who remain with NerdHaven, we must press on. The search for a new Director of User Experience will soon be underway. I will be applying for the position, as I see a clear and natural fit with my skill set, an incredible desire to translate client needs into reality, and vast experience in user-centric design over the years.  
But I need your help! I'd like to show Atlas a long list of people who took the time to recommend me. I know not everyone will be willing - and I certainly do not want any reluctant recommendations! But - If you feel strongly about our positive interactions or have stories to share, I would greatly appreciate your support in this.  
If you do decide to recommend me and would like additional information, please let me know. My LinkedIn profile is up to date but I can also provide a more detailed resume, examples of project work, etc.
I'm meeting with Sprint via teleconference and they point out Data got the exact same message from Suit.

As soon as I got the message, I knew I couldn't recommend Suit to anyone for the UXDir job. Not because I think they are unqualified, but because I literally know nothing about them professionally. I know they are a manager of some sort, but I have no idea if they are good at it. And I have no idea if they've ever done UX work.

Sprint knows more than I do: Suit is a manager who doesn't manage people. They used to, but don't anymore - but they are still a manager. Also in a company where the highest ranking person comes to work in ratty Tee shirts, Suit is the only person in the office to dress formally.

According to Sprint, the day after Suit became a manager, they started dressing formally.

Suit is a climber. And they are blanketing their chosen allies in the company with requests for endorsements. On LinkedIn, no less. Where bullsh!t goes to strut.

After my meeting, I head directly to Suit's office and close the door. I make it clear that I believe recommendations should come from firsthand experience. As I have none with Suit, I cannot recommend them. I make it clear, I'm not trying to offend them, I just want them to hear from me why they won't be seeing a recommendation appear on their profile. I just don't know them.

Although now I know a bit more about them.

Suit is unfazed. They suggest writing a "nice to work with" type of recommendation and they will put it "after all the other recommendations that address their skill sets."

I make my exit.

I'm IM-ing Runner about possible fallout from a new UXDir, Runner IM's back:
There's another internal candidate.
Apparently, UXDir let it slip that there are two internal candidates for the job.

Runner and I go through a list of suspects, but aside from the laughable suggestion of Noddy, we have no clear suspects. There are a lot of people we don't know, so it could be anybody.

Today's UXDir's last day, and there will be a happy hour. Runner and I plot to get UXDir hammered and ply them for more details.

I know, but this is kind of a big deal - we want the info and we want it yesterday.

Two hours to happy hour - Runner and I go into our estimation meeting. This is kind of an all hands thing - but Noddy's not coming. Which makes sense, since none of the work they are doing is part of this project. Which never stopped them from coming before - but now they are spending a lot of time slogging into a side project. Something that is below the 12 priority on our work list, yet commands Noddy's full attention these days.

I asked Noddy to give me the run down of where they were at yesterday and it took all of 30 minutes for me to realize that their current project is an utter waste of time.

Between sessions of turd-polishing I've seen them reading manuals on Agile and viewing webinars on "Making change happen."

Ugh, so useless.

Post estimation I get pulled into a room with Portal.

Portal's delivery is as rapid-fire as ever:

"Noddy's expressed an interest in the UXDir job and we've decided to give it to them."

*     *     *     *

Two things you need to know about Portal:

1) They are the person who is usually tapped by management to deliver the bad news;
2) They are, often as not, a firehose of bullsh!t

Portal laughs at my expression of total horror and says, "Just kidding, I'm garbage. But I'm not kidding about Noddy expressing interest. Never gonna happen, though."

I make it plain that Noddy's ascension to management would push me out the door.

Portal shifts gears and starts talking about getting me a visit to our West Coast office.

And boom, back in the team room.

And then happy hour.

Noddy shows up, same time as me. I can barely believe they want to be UXDir. It's the smart play - and Noddy is all about tactical. The UXDir position will be situated in our office, which means Sprint and Data are out. Heater doesn't want it - they want the future UXDir to be a "servant leader" - but they are no way going to try. Runner and I are both Noobs - and while...

Yes, I have thought about it, but only because I was afraid Noddy would have a greater chance than an external candidate. I would try for it - only as a counter to Noddy being on the inside track.

But really, I've never seriously considered it.
Because I'm on record as saying the new UXDIR should have proven management chops.
I don't have them, so if I think they are necessary, I rather have to exclude myself.
Also, because Sprint is senior to me - and is a wonderful take-charge kind of person. If anyone on our team should move up, it should be them.
It would hurt the dynamics of our team as well. I get along great with Runner and Sprint - but if I was the person who graded their performance each year?  That would suck.

Above all, though- I really enjoy doing the work I do now. Shifting to the management track would mean I wouldn't get to do that anymore. And that would epically suck.

Noddy is their usual insufferable self. Runner's chatting it up with Rollout - deep into topics that would have HR in cardiac arrest. UXDir's there, seemingly at ease. We cut up with them and threaten them if they try to recruit Sprint to work for them in their new job.

Atlas is there, paying for the tab and being the great person they usually are. They've worked with UXDir for well over a decade. They've been on the road every day this month - and are literally in town just long enough to say goodbye - before climbing back on the plane to disappear for almost the rest of the month. I think they will be back in town for two days in all of September. Atlas has children. They run NerdHaven. And they are the interim boss of UX until we hire a replacement.

They look tired. I'm usually intimidated by upper management. But Atlas is always approachable. Atlas will be making the call on the new UXDir.

They will protect us from ineptitude and corporate climbers. Bank on it.

UXDir makes their exit and I just feel ill. Despite their shortcomings in some areas, I cannot imagine this job without them. I barely knew them, but I will miss them terribly. UXDir was hands off and still supportive. They were inspiring.

*     *     *     *

After Noddy departs, I share the news that Noddy is trying for UXDir. BigDog is immediately dismissive of any chance of that happening. Runner nearly spits out their drink.

"Noddy's been reading all those Agile books, stuff on project management!"

We all agree, there is no chance Noddy will get the job. It just cannot happen in a just world.

I'm halfway home when I get a text from Runner:

This is terrible but look at Suit's linked in profile. You will not believe it.

I do.

And I don't.

Suit has changed their position title to include the same job title Runner and I have. They've added Project Manager, as well.

Again, I don't know Suit's UX chops, but I know their current role does not include UX.

They've also stocked their profile with the words "Servant leader."

Christ, Heater... why would you back this guy?

We've got probably three months before we fill the position - if we're lucky. The two internal candidates are biblically awful - which means the UX team will be Atlas's problem for months.

Atlas won't have much time for us - which means Noddy will run wild. We will continue the status quo - leaving Noddy to their (non) work and beating our own projects into shape.

I will continue to hope that Noddy will snap out of it, or that management will do it for them.

But for the rest of 2014, UX is on their own.

Its a rather hollow feeling.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Nearly Perfect Feeling

OneTwentyEight is back - shaken a bit, and doubling down on a healthy diet - now that they are back. DKA is no joke - and they were being treated for sepsis.

NerdHaven is teaching me about a number of medical things - and sepsis is one of them that stuck with me. Once it starts, your odds of surviving drop by about 10% every hour or so.

OneTwentyEight knows this - they learned it at the same talk I did. Thankfully, the treatment for it is simple and effective. Once treatment began, OneTwentyEight was in the clear.

But they are not indulging like they used to - and our team is trying to do the same things as before (bringing in bagels, running for take out) without being insensitive. Hey! Who wants stuffed crust?

Things are stabilizing.

Noddy has reached a new level of annoying. So much so - that Runner, Sprint and I have regular meetings where we b!tch about Noddy. It's starting to affect productivity.

In the interest of not annoying the crap out of people I will skip over Noddy's latest entry into the D-bag Hall of Fame - and point out a small something that made me smile.

Today, we were meeting with Product - in kind of a big deal discussion of an upcoming project. And - as they have in countless meetings before - Noddy starts dozing off.

This has become so commonplace - that Runner and I share a brief eyeroll and get back to the meeting. Which is sad - shouldn't we do something? Say something? But what would we do? Hey, Noddy! Wake the hell up, huh? That would go out over the teleconference and into the recording.

I'm thinking.... well, I dunno - that I don't want to go there.

About the time I've forgotten about Noddy, I look over at Product and they are looking at Noddy. Then they look at me, feign like they are passing out and give me a look as if to say "Is that really happening?"

Runner and I just look back at Product. Hellyea that is happening.

It's petty of me - I know. But somebody outside of UX is noticing that Noddy sleeps on the job.

But that's not the good thing I wanted to talk about.

Back when I was bailing out of CorpWorld - I was contacted by the President of UX Candy Land. One of those "I hear music" kind of contacts. Full on awesome and (naturally) I'd just taken another job that would implode on me in seven months.

Thanks, but no thanks, PerfectJob...I'm gonna climb aboard this sinking ship. Bon Voyage!

I'd pointed Candy Land's president towards Stimpy - who was on professional life support over at CorpWorld - and let PerfectJob slip away.

Now, of course - Candy Land wouldn't be the perfect job for me. The commute's longer and - aside from Noddy - my current job is just awesome.

So today, out of the blue - the President of Candy Land contacts me again. He's looking for someone to do UX work for him. Short term - with the possibility of turning into a full time position (yeah, I know. Contract gigs always say that, but I'd lay good odds on this one).

Anyway. I'm genuinely flattered to be contacted again. The President isn't really asking me to apply - they just want to know if I could refer them to some UXers. I'm never going to be well connected - but I got to feel like a known entity in my profession.

In a ridiculously small way, I know.

I can't do this job, and most of the UXers I know are placed, but I ping Stimpy. Stimpy never got a shake at Candy Land last go round. I figure I'l ping them and see if they are up for some short term work.

Stimpy's just back from overseas and they are off CorpWorld's payroll. Not only are they interested, but they've already been contacted by Candy Land. Turns out, Candy Land's President remembers my earlier recommendation of Stimpy and contacted them directly.

Stimpy is so happy - and I'm practically radiating.

I mean - it's going to sound dumb, but no way I get where I am without the help of folks like Sensei, Anjin-san, The Artist, Ruby... hell, everybody in the old crew.

And you say 'thank you' when you can, but it's nowhere close to adequate.  You've altered the trajectory of my life, made it possible for me to better provide for my children... so here's a card I bought in a drugstore.

There's no way to square that.

-But I can help Stimpy.

Its still early, and it may not work out. Or the gig may not go permanent. But the thought of finally being about to do something to help one of the old crew out...

Well, it's the best feeling I've had in a while.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Man Down

I'm going to break one of my rules and address how long it's been since I've posted.

It's been forever - and my thanks to those who have asked after me.

Nerdhaven has been good to me. I've herded some new features into production along with Runner & Sprint. Code was written, users were interviewed, and future iterations are planned.

And I've gotten two vacations since I started. Honest to God take-the-family-someplace-fun vacations.

We saw waterfalls - and buffalo. Someone broke into our car.

Fun was had by all.

We've survived the child care pong of summer - and with school at last beginning - I felt poised to start the final big push to land Arwafn with a full set of features.

Runner and I are joined at the hip these days - and we are going to get this thing done.

Without Noddy.

Because of a date picker. I'll explain.

Runner and I spent a good deal of time sorting through the work pile and looking for what gets spec'ed out next. We're given a truly staggering amount of leeway to do this and neither of us want to tank on this so we start getting micromanaged.

Deliver the goods on time, you get to run your own room. Fail to deliver - and corporate will be all up in your sh!t.

We want to avoid that at all costs. So we're hitting it hard. Problem is, that 'we' only includes two people. Noddy - while on paper assigned to help out with the larger effort that includes Arwafn - pointedly does jack sh!t.

I wish I was exaggerating this, but we log all our work into a web app. I can run activity histories on anyone on the project and the work they contribute to queue. True, a good amount of work is done outside of the app - but any tangible end product must end up there. You might have a gap in a log for awhile, but the gap would end with a flurry of activity when all your offline efforts turned into deliverables. I'm looking at Noddy's activity history and there's a two month gap of nothing.

Nothing. In two months. The gap starts when Noddy copies a set of old stories written by Sensei into a new section of the app. Copy and paste. Then two months of nothing... then three bits of work were slightly edited.  Then two more weeks of nothing.

I have watched Noddy sit at their desk and surf Ebay. Now, we all hit the web sometimes at work. Perfectly acceptable, so long as you keep it under control.

Noddy is running a side business selling collectibles - during work hours, on their work machine.

Runner and I tried giving work to Noddy, in the hopes of bringing them around. Every single task we gave them turned into weeks of delay - followed by their asking us to do the work for them.

"Can you look through this? Feel free to edit whatever."

Or, you know, do it for me.

We asked Noddy to do a truly basic piece of UI - select a date range - just to keep them from meddling in the work that mattered. THREE WEEKS later - they return with a fully functioning prototype, delivered in executable file. They demo'ed it to us for feedback and Runner and I were just aghast.

In UX - you don't do this. Not out of the gate. Not without bouncing your early drafts off your colleagues. Because now we have to tell them that their shiny executable is (to put it mildly) horsh!t UI. A huge wedge of screen real estate devoted to a small problem - that could have been addressed with a one day mock up!

Three weeks. True - Runner and I were glad to have the break from Noddy. So long as they had something that was theirs, they would stop leaning over our desks and offering high handed wisdom about what we "should" be doing. So, we let them waste their time instead of ours.

But that was the last bit for me. I have regular check ins with the boss, UXDir and while I'd tried to stay above the fray - I finally lost it.

"What the hell is going on with Noddy?" I detailed our frustrations with getting work out of him - using two specific examples where time and effort were lost waiting for them to produce.

UXDir nodded knowingly and asked "If I get them out of your way, would that help?"

"Absolutely."

UXDir told me neither of us had to involve him in our project work - and that Noddy would be given other assignments.

Sweet!

Freed up from pretending to count on Noddy - or invite them to our meetings. Runner and I settled in to do get stuff done.

Noddy chose some low priority work and basically stayed at the back of the queue. They were working on stuff, they said- but it was so far down on the list it would never get worked on.

Which meant, again, that they did nothing.

Runner and I hurled ourselves into our project work. We would get nothing out of Noddy, but we had two kick-ass devs in BigDog and OneTwentyEight and we were giving them a steady stream of work.

Sh!t. Got. Done.

Over on the west coast, our senior team member, Sprint, was in a similar situation. The Professor had bailed out leaving a huge pile of smoke and mirrors in their wake that Sprint (and Data) would be expected to turn into awesomeness. And they were still crushing it. Sprint is just an incredible person. There's no real way to express my professional admiration for them without coming across as a total dork, so I try not to get in their way and remain pleasant.

I want to be like Sprint. Pair me up with a snobbish, do-nothing, pot-head of a designer - fine. I'll still kick this job's ass. What about that? Oh, they quit? Fine. Less hassle for me.

Sprint works with Data, but being down a UX role in that office is way less than ideal. Sprint has still outproduced Runner and I combined. For months. They rock.

Months you say? Yeah. I hate to pick on the boss, but UXDir is not really quick out of the gate on administration things. Y'know, stuff like standing on laggers' heads - or hiring replacements for folks who left in May.

A few weeks ago - we got invites to participate in panel interviews for replacing the Professor. I'm flattered to be asked. I remember my interview panel: Heater, Noddy, Flyer, UXDir and OneTwentyEight. Aside from Noddy - it was among the most fun I'd had at an interview, ever.

Now I was going to get to vet the replacement for the Professor. Cool!

Reading through the resum├ęs, however, made me really wonder. Only one of the candidates had UX experience of any kind. Which is weird, because I get that you would get these applicants - I just didn't see how they would make it to a final interview stage.

UXDir flew out to the west coast office to do the interviews along with Sprint, the rest of us videoconferenced into them.

True to form, Noddy's phone rang in the middle of an interview (they always set it on piercingly loud, too). Later in the same interview, they surfed the web in full view of the camera.
That earned us all an admonition to bring no phones or laptops into the remaining interviews.

Next interview? Noddy brought an apple that they proceeded to eat during the interview. To be discrete, though, they sat immediately behind me and ate the apple right behind my head so it wouldn't be seen by the video camera.

Awesome, right?

I learned a lot about interviewing people by watching Sprint and most of our team agreed on who we'd hire and who we wouldn't. UXDir joked that he was thinking of settling down on the west coast - it was so nice, and they'd get to work with Sprint.

It was a good bonding thing.

Next week UXDir is back in the office looking utterly shredded from travel. I stayed out of their way. UXDir's got enough to do and I knew what my punch list was before vacay. No final decision was going to be made before I got back - so I sorted out my priority list and tried to make sure there were no loose screws.

I'm walking out the door "See you in a week"

UXDir "Yeah, if I don't get fired."

????

Okay, I'm terrible at getting UXDir's sarcasm - and they have a wicked sense of humor that I keep mistaking for candor.

"Uh..."

They grin. "Kidding. See you in two weeks. I'm on vacation, 'week after next."

Elevator door closes. Queue vacation montage.

Mountains.
Valleys.
Wildlife.
Crime-ridden, hellscape that is Billings, Montana.
Home.

Exhausted.

I reorient myself with the workflow. BigDog is bogged down in admin stuff, OneTwentyEight is absolutely killing it. Coding up a storm and tackling a particularly thorny custom PDF document to boot.

It has finally occurred to Noddy that performance metrics are being logged. So a flurry of vapor-work is appearing in our tracking app. They are doing something, but again - it is so far down in the priority list, they might have well stayed home.

Now, I might have sympathy for Noddy in this - they are being given the ass-end of project work - but only because no one wants to rely on them to do important work.

Further, were I Noddy - and found myself getting sh!t work - I would slap down some work, get it to RFD and march into my boss's office and demand more and better work.

Not Noddy. Noddy spins their wheels in purgatory like they're in paradise. Yea! Look at me, doing make work while everyone else is so stressed. Why so serious, guys? Huh?

Runner and I are no longer polite to Noddy.

Part of this is my fault. I had this ideal that I would not stoop to denying a fellow UX'er client time. Runner and I had interviews with clients who are testing our Arwafn feature and I just could not see excluding Noddy from them.

On what grounds would I do that, really?

We'd studiously scheduled meetings without Noddy when the entire topic was project work they weren't on - namely, Our work. Those I could stomach. I could look Noddy in the eye and say - "You aren't working on Arwafn - so we figured your time would be better spent on your projects."

I could do that.

But when it came to client contact (the all too rare source of many a good design) I just couldn't stoop that low.

So I invited Noddy.

Runner was just about apoplectic. "What the hell are you thinking? Sprint warned us about this!"

And they had. Told us how Noddy would jump into somebody else's client interview asking drawn out questions from their own agenda - derailing Sprint's carefully constructed interview script and wasting priceless client time.

But I'd sent the invites already. I figured Noddy might not come to all of our interviews. We had like six lined up, he might only go to half - at most.

The week of the first Arwafn interview - Noddy hears Runner and I talking about the setup work we're doing for them and asks "Do you have some interviews coming up? Can I come?"

Now, understand - They would have received invites for at least four interviews by this time. Four. They'd accepted all of them. Which means all of them are on their calendar - or should be.

"Yeah. We have three this week. One next week."

Noddy looks hurt. "Can you forward them to me?"

I. Fricking. Did.

"Sure."

I send all four that I have. Again.

Runner rolls their eyes.

*  *  *  *  *  *

When we fire up the first Arwafn interview, Noddy is nowhere to be found. Runner and I get things rolling and we have a great interview going and -

Noddy bursts into the room 20 minutes late, and immediately starts offering commentary to Runner - distracting them from facilitating the interview. Runner's taken by surprise, and goes along for awhile. Noddy wants them to look up an online document for them that relates to something that Noddy wants to ask about.

Something that has NOTHING to do with what this interview is going after.

Noddy passes me a note about a question they want to ask. Noddy wants to build a certain feature in Arwafn - and he wants to ask the clients if they would like it.

This is bullshit research. A user who just says they 'like' something hasn't told you anything. They have to say what they would do with it that they couldn't do before. Give me a reason. When you do show and tell, or lead them with a question - you'll often get: 'that'd be nice.' Which doesn't help you understand why they want it.

But more to the point - the thing Noddy is asking about - is something that we've already gotten quality feedback on, fifteen minutes earlier on - when they weren't here. Now they want to waste our interview time so they can be personally caught up.

I head them off and keep to my script. Then Noddy passes me some other notes about other features - features that are nice to haves - when the purpose of the interview is to validate the basic function of Arwafn.

I don't need feedback on these other features - I know the users want them - and if I have time, we will build them for them. But FIRST, we need to know if Arwafn is hitting the mark on the absolute basics.

Noddy's done NONE of the design work, none of the interview setup, none of the legwork, hasn't read the script and shows up late - yet they still want to drive the interview towards their pet questions.

Worse, their pet ideas for Arwafn aren't even their ideas - these are features that are plain as day requests from the market - writ large. In Noddy's mind, however - they are championing a needed feature and Runner and I shutting them down means we are close minded.

The interview ends and Noddy continues to press for these extra bells and whistles. Like Runner and I haven't heard of them. Like we're opposed to them.

We're not. At this point, we just hate Noddy's guts and anything they say - but more professionally - we had research goals for the session and these features aren't part of them.

* * * * *

Incredibly, Noddy repeats their performance at least once more (late, pestering us with BS questions, the whole bit).

Runner is about to stab me in the eye with a pencil, but not before I stab Noddy first.

So. Sick. Of Noddy.

* * * * *

Labor Day Weekend.

Sloth. Food. And More Sloth.

First day back promises to be busy. There's a critical prioritization meeting in the afternoon, and a team lunch we won at the company Olympics. 

(Told you this place was cool.)

Anyway we start up with the Retro. Agile demands it.

BigDog is running the show - which is odd, because OneTwentyEight was on the signup sheet for leading today. OneTwentyEight's not in yet, which is also odd, because they always like to arrive early and leave early.

BigDog plows through the Retro with all speed, which is good because I've got my regular meeting with UXDir in less than a half an hour. I've been out, they've been out- there's a lot to talk about. I wrote an agenda for crying out loud.

Mid retro- UXDir sends a meeting to all of UX. "Quick Meeting."

I know what you're thinking. Sudden meetings with the boss are bad. But that was CorpWorld. This is Nerdhaven. Runner is thinking the same thing.

"What do you think the meeting is?"

I bluff. "A decision's been made on the new UX hire."

But I know that's not right.

* * * * *

Retro ends and we go into UXDir's office.

They start out with "Candidate 3 has accepted our offer."

Awesome. They were my favorite.

UXDir continues, "...and my last day will be September 17."

And there it is. The answer to that hollow spot that's been floating around them for the past month. 

They have been marginalized in their current role. They've been looking for a new challenge and there did not seem to be any good choices for them here at Nerdhaven. Their kids are just starting school - so a move at this point is easier than later. And they've been offered a good opportunity to start a UX team from scratch. They had to....

That old feeling, back again. The Boss leaves, and the team they leave behind feels the world tilt a bit...

...towards the door.

I have my one on one with them immediately afterwards and they go out of their way to assure me that UX is not going anywhere. "It is ingrained in our process here. That's part of why my current role is so limited."

I joke, "Your work here is done."

UXDir laughs. They are such an immensely likable person. I've never had more trouble reading a person I liked so much. I'm constantly mis-communicating with them - yet the are truly inspiring in their role. They've done it all before, and my suggestions always sound stupid to me when I'm talking to them. They let the air out of any procedural bullshit they see - seize on it and hurl it outside before it derails the room. 

I've spent a lot of time working for people who don't get UX, and until September 17 of this year - I will be working for a person who makes me feel like I don't get UX at all. I want them to stay. I want to catch up to where they are. 

UXDir is a bit of a mess as a manager - but they are an inspired designer. 

And they lead from the front. 

* * * * *

I'm back in the project room - I think. We rip through the day - Lunch with most of the team. No YQA or OneTwentyEight, but the rest of us have a good time.

Later we get with product, sort our priorities out. Mostly. Product refreshingly doesn't want to deal in the details, but that means sometimes they assume the "obvious" details are being handled. We're meeting to get on the same page.

UXDir and Product come to an agreement. Then I'm off to telecommute from home.

I'm in my easy chair, firing up the VPN and Runner IM's me and we decompress about UXDir's departure means.

I sincerely believe that UX is sound in this shop.

But Noddy.

Noddy scares me. UXDir was never going to can them - but with UXDir gone, there are a few possibilities that are unfolding simultaneously in Runner's mind and mine.
  1. Nerdhaven hires to replace UXDir, Noddy applies for the job and since they are "Lead UX" some higher up decides they should go with the internal candidate.
  2. Nerdhaven doesn't hire to replace UXDir. The purely admin duties of managing us go to some other manager with lots of other mouths to feed and the day to day leadership of UX is given to "Lead UX" Noddy.
  3. Nerdhaven doesn't hire to replace UXDir. UX is left to its own devices and Noddy continues their well established pattern of doing the absolute minimum.
Runner and I are advancing our most likely scenarios going forward - IM'ing back and forth like pessimistic hummingbirds when they stop dead:

OneTwentyEight is in ICU!

What?

Runner explains. OneTwentyEight is a diabetic. They've been admitted with DKA - Diabetic Ketoacidosis. This means that OneTwentyEight's insulin level is low enough that their body has started to eat itself.

OneTwentyEight is not some elderly, overweight person neglecting their health. They are young. Very young. With a disease that will progress in severity over whatever time it is given.

And they are sitting in an ICU - while Runner and I have been fretting over something as stupid as an annoying coworker.

It's hard to express the sentiment that builds up on a good team for me. Most of my life I moved around and left the people I knew behind without much thought.

But I like stable. And I like my team - and I don't want to get too over the top, but they are good people. I want to help them.

I doubt we would hang out outside of work without some pronounced awkwardness - but as a unit we kick major ass. And OneTwentyEight is in real trouble. And there is nothing we can do for them.

I suppose I could stop whining.

...

Friday, May 02, 2014

Circular Firing Squad

I'm on the phone with Data, our in-house BI expert - talking about a feature of Arwafn that utterly blew up when we met with the SMEs.

It's not going well.

I've let Data down - again. This seems to be my lot in life. I'm told to move the ball forward, with the understanding that a first attempt will not be perfect - but we will improve as we go.

This is the opposite of what Data wants from me. Data wants me to have all of my sh!t together before I ask them to do their bit.

And I understand this. But UXDirector has given me explicit instructions to not to wait until everything is perfect. UXDirector is tired of waiting for perfect - and they want movement. Now.

They are the boss. So, I do what they say - only to end up utterly letting down Data.

Data has conviction. They are principled. "We cannot fake this. We have to get it right."

And I agree with this. I just believe that we will get it right, after a few revisions. We do not know what we do not know. So we will go forward, take some beatings - and learn.

Data doesn't want to take beatings. Right now, they are dishing them out.

I've often joked that a big part of UX is taking the beatings. So I lean into it until they are done.

"Do you know this stuff? Really know it?"  They are talking about Arwafn.

I hedge a bit - which is stupid.

"I don't have it memorized, but I believe I know it."

Data can sniff out BS like a bloodhound. "Because we cannot get this wrong. This has to be right. Customers won't go through the misery of setting this up if they don't see the value."

I'm trapped between two competing design strategies. UXDirector and Data are not on the same page. And there seems to be no way to make them both happy.

Somewhere in the beating Data drops a bomb.

"The Professor is leaving."

What?

The Professor is Data's partner on a big chunk of our current project. They both share the "first, get it right" philosophy of design - and have been collaborating well.

"Yeah, their last day is a week from Friday."

I do the math. It's Wednesday, which means if the Professor gave two weeks notice, the UXDirector has known for two days and has not told anyone.

What the what?

I like the UXDirector. But if they have a major weakness, it is in their communication skills. In person, you will get all you need to know - but only if you seek them out. If you are waiting for a bulletin from them - don't hold your breath. Once, they emailed us the day before they left the office for two weeks. Nobody knew a thing about it. "Bye department, I'll be gone until..."

And now, mum on the departure of a team member.

*   *   *

Bit of background is in order here: The Professor is someone I have a good deal of professional respect for. They clearly have UX and research chops.

But here's the thing: they flat out suck at working with people like me. I've never had a meeting with the Professor where I didn't feel like I was getting lectured.

Here's what I did... and here's the background on how I approached it and here's the proper technique...and-

"I have a question"

Let's table that for now. Now you can see here that..."

"What is that pattern?"

I would push back on the term 'pattern.' This is clearly an expression of a design language. Now, as I was saying...

And so on.

Hours of this.

We used to refer to some of the meetings with the Professor as "Watch Professor Type." They'd show up with stuff they wanted to show off, and brush off anyone else's material until they'd lovingly walked through every last facet of their design. At which point, any questions or alternate designs were swatted aside until the Professor would conclude that their design had carried the day.

It's just a strawman.

Strawman. They said this so often that it became a joke with Runner, Noddy and I. We actually had a drinking game where each of us would take a drink every time the Professor said the word.

Being in the office the drinks were usually sparkling water, but it made us all smile.

And I don't think the Professor is a bad sort, they just had no idea how to collaborate. At one point I got into an email rant with them about a particular design choice they'd assumed we'd all adopt. I proposed a compromise and - they took me up on it.

The ice was broken - somewhat. And I'd hoped this would be the beginning of better things. The Professor had a good sense of humor and our meetings usually had more than a few good laughs.

So, right after Data tells me the Professor is leaving, they invite me to a technical review of the work Data and the Professor have been doing. This, I consider a win. Data would like me to be there. They would like Runner to be there as well, but not Noddy. As they put it "I don't want them to screw it up."

So, Data and I are on the same page about Noddy.  Really, how could we not be? Noddy is a total tool.

Anyway, I go into the tech review and sit back while the Professor launches into another tour of their grand vision.

I've seen this part before - and I'm wondering what the Hell the Professor is up to. A technical review is basically "I want to build this. How many technical hurdles do you see at first blush?"

A rapid description of the features would suffice. But this is the Professor: He begins with his persona research. Then his task patterning. About three more abstract visualizations later, the developers are checking their smartphone email. Then the Professor starts talking about their prototyping tool. How it works, what their initial approach was - the problems they encountered - and why the performance of the tool was currently sub-par.

If the Professor had any empathy for their audience (aside from me, all developers) they would realize that absolutely nobody gave a sh!t about what they were talking about.

Some 45 minutes into the verbal barrage, the Professor finally arrives at showing page mockups and discussing the data requirements. This - devs care about. Questions begin flying in earnest, but there are so many unknowns that the meeting ends 15 minutes later with the devs as mystified about what was required as they were when the meeting began. Eight high-priced developers burned an hour to get a UX theory lecture and walked away with very little new information.

Awesome.

And there was a niggling little detail in the presentation that I couldn't manage to forget. In the past, the Professor hasn't been shy about lacing his documents and communications with snide nicknames for people and things he has little respect for. They'd referred to the Marketing Department's branding guidelines as "the art project" and I suggested we stop calling it that - lest one of these folks get wind of it and take offense.  This was my attempt at being diplomatic.

The Professor laughed it off - like it was silly to even worry about it - and just left the term in their documents. And proceeded to forcefully use the term in our subsequent meetings. It struck me as tacky - not a huge deal, but evidence that the Professor didn't easily turn off their scorn.

This is in the back of my mind, when I see the Professor's summation of our UX team's current projects.

Next to the entry for Arwafn - under the column that indicated who was working on it - the Professor had written 'the three Amigos.'

Meaning Runner, Noddy & I. In the eyes of the Professor, we're the three Amigos.

Now, I'd seen this 'cognitive walkthrough' of the Professor's before - only this part hadn't been in the tours I'd seen.

And I wasn't supposed to be in this meeting - Data had invited me at the last minute.

Nice. Way to belittle your peers in front of the Devs.

I mean, Runner and I are making fun of the Professor on a regular basis - we're just not documenting it and showing it to folks outside our team.

Okay. I see how it is.

*   *   *

So, the Professor is quitting. Taking a job for less pay, because they want to get out. They've tried ("and tried.. and tried" they say) to win UXDirector over to their design philosophy. No traction.

Hmm... maybe it's your delivery.

And they're going to - in their words - "a rockstar shop." So be it. If they find an environment that suits them, they are better off. Frankly, I think we will be, too.

I mean, I've been in a lot of pointless meetings - but the Professor had a way of describing things that they were "going to do" - and then not do them.

This is perhaps the reason that UXDirector is not embracing their design philosophy. Because it is so slow.

*   *   *

Which still leaves the question as to why the UXDirector hadn't bothered to tell anyone that the Professor is leaving the company. Given the UXDirector's communication style - I can't say this omission carried any special significance. You don't get much from UXDirectory unless you ask for it. Nobody asked them if the Professor was leaving the company - so, they hadn't said.

*   *   *

So, it's today. I'm still smarting from the week's beatings. I've recently acquired a new set of standards for Arwafn - and I can see it will require changes to its basic function. This will go over with Data like a lead balloon.

I remember Noddy talking about this particular function and find an email from them from March. They are asking about this function based on another document. They email basically everyone on the project to say "look what I've found." Product weighs in and says "make this change." A SME weighs in and says "we must do this."

I remember talking with Noddy about it - I was trying to figure out how big a deal this would be. I had no concept of how big of an issue this was - it seemed like an edge case. I wasn't eager to make changes, but I wasn't opposed to it. And Noddy had been greenlighted by Product.

Noddy does...nothing.

A month later - I'm looking at new specs that tell me I need to make this change

Hooray. I'm looking for ways to break this to them and opt to go to another person in Data's field - Heater. Heater instantly knows what I'm looking for and starts the machinery to make the necessary changes.

Heater is thorough - so they copy the UX team - which means Data. Data is clearly irritated at this new discovery. Clearly I'm not doing my job well - otherwise I'd have known about this.

My attitude is that making fixes as we go forward was always part of the plan. UXDirector has said we'll put our code into an environment and throw actual production data against it to see where the holes are. This strikes me as a great next step.

I've mentioned this to Data and while they are clearly on board with this - test and make improvements. But this new change of mine is still heresy.

*sigh*

UX is all about taking the beatings.

Later, I'll go tell the devs that we'll have to change working code.

Noddy stops by to tell me that he knew this would be a problem, that'd he'd asked for these features a long time ago and "...nothing happened."

Gee, wonder why that was...?

*sigh*

*   *   *

It's the afternoon. I'm looking at a farewell email from the Professor in amazement.

I've seen my share of awkward goodbye messages - but the Professor's is on a whole new level.

I mean, what do you usually say in a goodbye message? "So long, it's been great. I've learned a lot. Here's my contact info. Keep in touch."

Not the Professor. Their message has something else.

It has a chart.

A timeline illustrating the projects the Professor has been involved in - what the goals were - and the (Totally awesome) success each of them ended with. There are at least three swim lanes in the data table and...

...skip it. It was ridiculous. A victory lap for someone who saw their every action as triumph. 

I'm deleting it when I remember that I have another meeting with them.

The Professor is having their last meeting about the style guide. The style guide has been a recurring lecture series where the Professor tells everyone to do what they say.

To be fair, the sessions had improved from the first few sessions - but we hadn't met in recent weeks because we were all too busy.

Now the Professor wanted to have one last session and we couldn't really find a reason to turn them down.

We started out cordial enough. The Professor asked if anyone had some items for the group and I pointed out that everyone else in the room would still be around the following week to discuss things - but if the Professor wanted to say something, they should probably say it now.

"Fair enough," says the Professor - and they proceed to walk us through "their process."

Again.

I've seen this document before. At least three times. And now four. This matters not at all to the Professor and they replay their earlier lecture as if it were hot off the press.

They detail personas and affinity diagrams. And how they "informed their early iterations" and how this led to "an integrated feature set." How meeting with users had allowed them to "move forward with confidence."

At this point, I've had it.

I interrupt. "Are you showing us these things because you think they are new to us?"

I mean seriously, pal. Everyone in this room works in UX. You are talking to us like we are schoolchildren. 

AND I - FOR ONE - AM SICK OF IT.

The Professor seems surprised. "No. Not at all."

Then why the F*#k are you lecturing us on this stuff like you've just invented it?

The Professor just wants to share their design philosophy with us, they say. They want to point out how they've managed to do all this research AND still deliver stories in a timely manner.

*   *   *

Need to step back a bit here - and I appreciate you for hanging in there on this one. It's ramblier than usual because this stuff just happened a few hours ago.

The Professor and Data have been working on their project for as long as Runner and I have been working on Arwafn. We have a number of accepted stories and a bunch of stories Ready for Development. RFD, the coveted status of UXers in our company.

RFD = Devs don't go hungry = points on the board.

And we have stories that are in progress - and more on the way.

The Professor? The one saying they were able to "deliver stories in a timely manner?"

They have zero stories that are RFD.

TWO DAYS AGO, they dropped 40 stories into the queue and got them estimated. This means they are not RFD, not about to be RFD, but about to be worked on so they will eventually become RFD.

And the Professor is leaving in two hours. These stories - whatever they eventually become - will owe precious little to the Professor, since Data and Sprint will be stuck doing the work to actually make them happen.

And quite possibly Runner and me.

Professor? I CALL BULLSHIT.

*   *   *

So, knowing this - hearing all this, I've stopped being patient and started to call out the competing philosophies in the room. Up front vs as you go.

If I had a choice, from a standing start - with room to breathe - I honestly can't say which of these I would reach for first. Each of them have their advantages.

But there was no choice. UXDirector spelled it out. We are an as-you-go shop. We'll move stuff forward, make mistakes - and then make things better. The Professor has basically ignored this and has gone their own way. UXDirector has let this happen, under the hope/assumption that good stuff will eventually come down the chute. And - to my mind - the Professor has landed a big pile of maybe and is trying to rub our noses in it on the way out.

"I'm frustrated." I say. I point out how I'm told to write a simple story NOW - then make it better. And my reward for that is to drive Data into a near fury.

"I'm not trying to drive you crazy. I'm doing what my boss has expressly told me to do."

And then all kinds of sh!t starts letting go. Data takes issue with my version of RFD. The Professor asserts that our amount of rework will be less than theirs. I'm incredulous.

"You think you won't have rework?"

"Not as much."

The Professor is shoving 40 pigs through the python at once. Or, they would be if they were sticking around to make them RFD. Instead, Sprint and Data will try to make these pieces flow through the system - all interconnected - all co-dependent - and minimize the rework.

Good.

Effing.

Luck.

A lot of the stories are clones of one another, so you build one, you can easily build the other. But if you start them at the same time and one dev finds a problem that another doesn't...?

The devs were saying as much after the tech review. All that interconnectivity being built at the same time ups the risk substantially.

Sprint, bless them, stands up for me. I get the sense that Sprint and UXDirector are on the same page. Sprint lets go with some stuff that had been bottled up for awhile.

And Runner joins in. "We are not an effective team."

And we aren't. Runner nails it. Three of us are in one office and three (soon to be two) are on the coast. We used to have regular meetings as a team and now it's just impromptu phone calls and email.

And stuff gets missed. And then we get angry at...everything.

It's like therapy. Soon people are apologizing and we're agreeing to have regular check ins. Data volunteers to have regular work sessions with Runner and me on Arwafn.

It was horrible and beautiful all at once.

But I'm so glad it happened.

I end up wishing the Professor well - I do hope they are happier in their new shop - but I am glad they are moving on. I suspect I am not alone in that. I want to work in a team and (with the exception of Noddy) everyone else on the UX team is somebody I like and respect.

We just need to get past the awkward and the awful and move forward.

And I think despite - or perhaps because of - the Professor, we took a big first step.

Huzzah!

Monday, April 07, 2014

Another Letter

Round two came back in the mail after only three days. I was rushing out the door, and almost missed it. I'd sent out maybe a dozen or so documents and, lo and behold, back came an envelope containing a dozen or so sheets of paper.

Seen that before.

I chucked the rest of the mail on the couch, balanced my bag on the handrail - and ripped it open. It had a cover letter. One hand reaching for my keys, I looked for the check box.

But there wasn't one. This was a genuine letter, signed even. It said "Enclosed are the documents you requested."

I'm halfway out of the house, swinging the door closed, reading-
George _________ - Born March 20, 1887.
Hospitalized: August 31, 1921 - April 17, 1923.
I'll be damned.
There it was, in black and white. I sat down on the porch and began reading.



It was not a happy story.

It began with interview notes. In them, the patient is described as a common laborer. In the blank next to "education," the doctor has entered - "not much." The patient is asked a series of questions about the world around him; He knows who the president is, he knows that the Mississippi is the largest river in the US, and so on.

He doesn't know why he's here. He knows he owns his own house; he's had trouble with his wife over the children. He did threaten to kill her, but he didn't mean it. He thinks his wife doesn't care for him, that she might be unfaithful. She's been saying things, you see.

The diagnosis is brief.

The other documents were a chronology of patient behavior and disposition. Every month or so, the patient gets three or more lines of text.

Lines like:
...patient does no work...
...sits and stares into space...
...wanders the ward aimlessly...
...dull and stupid.
All entries report the patient is in good physical condition. Treatment is not mentioned at all.
The last entries record a change in demeanor: the patient has "a high opinion of himself" and occasionally attacks staff. The final entry has an almost exasperated tone:
Transferred by order of the Board of Control. Condition unimproved
There was a lot in the letter, but that's where it ended, 1923. Two years down, forty odd more to go.

If there is more to be had, I'll find it.


Tuesday, April 01, 2014

I am Weasel

Runner [3:29 PM]:  just feeling a bit grumpy today

murph
[3:30 PM]: whazzup?

Runner
[3:31 PM]: oh the earlier stuff with our buddy

murph
[3:31 PM]: Yeah, that's totally shitty

Runner
[3:31 PM]: did you talk with him?

murph
[3:32 PM]: I did.
Caution.
This will not help your mood

Runner
[3:32 PM]: OK
give it to me

murph
[3:33 PM]: He basically said all the things he should of said to the SMEs, but didnt'.
He thinks he was taking the bullet in the call and in his discussion with BigDog.
I do not think that is so.
He believes that he went through the stories with you to find ones that were ready for dev.
I made him repeat that.
Basically doubling down on the line of bullshit
I just....
I mean WT screaming hell?

Runner
[3:36 PM]: so I take the bullet for it

murph
[3:36 PM]: I went after that. "So now, the SMEs are going to think this is on Runner?"
He's like "No, I took the bullet for this."
I did not get that out of his conversation on Friday at all.

Runner
[3:37 PM]: did you mention that?

murph
[3:37 PM]: I did not. I sat there like a tool.
I could not believe his shit and I did nothing about it.
Which does not help.

Runner
[3:38 PM]: well whatever it is done
I learned a valuable lesson

murph
[3:38 PM]: Noddy is a weasel. And I'm not much help.

Runner
[3:39 PM]: well you don't want to get too involved in this
I think people know that, right?

murph
[3:39 PM]: No, Runner I let you down in there. Same as Friday.
I just could not believe how far down the rabbit hole he was going.
I just sat there.
I made sure I wasn't mis-hearing him but I didn't call him out.
Which is shit.
And I'm sorry, but I'll do better. This can't be how it goes.

Runner
[3:41 PM]: don't worry about it
sounds like this isn
this isn't the first time it's happened
and really it's my fault for letting it happen

murph
[3:42 PM]: No, letting it happen is on me, too. And I should not let this roll like that.

Runner
[3:42 PM]: and truth be told, I probably shouldn't have written up those stories without combining everything and getting it all in there

murph
[3:43 PM]: That's gonna be a thing, for sure for all of us.
Anyway, Runner - I'm sorry I didn't pounce on him. I was all pissed off, and then I got nowhere with him.
I don't think I can fix the overall situation, but Noddy should know that he's in the wrong.
I don't want the drama, but I hate the unfair.

Runner
[3:45 PM]: well lesson learned is that we can't just move stories ready for dev unless we vet them

murph
[3:45 PM]: Yeah. Totally
And we don't move stories that aren't ours.

Runner
[3:47 PM]: yep

murph
[3:47 PM]: See. Told you it wouldn't improve your mood.

Runner [3:47 PM]: I was expecting that really

Monday, March 31, 2014

One Small Box


I don't know exactly what I expected to find when I started chasing after my great grandfather, but it wasn't this.

Okay, that's not quite true - I did expect a few things. Fairly unrealistic things, now that I think about it. I was caught up in what I thought was a bit of a mystery - and mysteries always get my imagination going. I had started with one piece of information: the name of the facility where my great-grandpa George died

I was hot on the trail.

As it happened, there is a facility with that name right where I live (what luck). All the documentation I needed practically fell into my lap. All I needed to do was write a letter and ask them to send me everything they had on my great grandfather. This was going to be a fairly straightforward case.

So be it. If the hunt was to be easy - there was still the anticipation of what I would discover - what they would send me.

Here's how I pictured it:

I would wait a few days, then weeks, and then about the time I'd forgotten about ever making the request, it would arrive.

In my imagination, it would be a small, well-worn box. It would have a few dusty photographs of people I'd never met, maybe a book or two written in Russian, and (best of all) official documentation of my great-grandfather's confinement. There would be a certain amount of finality to it, but with enough leads to take me to new mysteries - if I was interested.

That's what I expected, but then - Hollywood has really done a number on my generation.

What I did get was a letter. In it was the request and supporting documentation I'd sent them - they were sending it back. They'd attached a cover sheet with four lines of text on it. Each line was next to a check box.

One of these boxes was checked. It said:
Our files have been carefully checked and we are unable to determine that the patient was ever seen at [our facility]
So much for imagination, so much for easy.

So much for round one. Round two is in the mail, and I've queued up round three. Mysteries be damned, I just hate to lose.

I'm still on the trail.