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your help on this would be greatly appreciated August 29, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Inexplicable Memos From Above.
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This post is the first in a new category called “Inexplicable Memos From Above”. The post title will almost always be the last line of the e-mail.

Going forward, please AVOID using the double doors outside of the [engineering facility] as your entrance or exit to [Corporatespeak Headquarters]. These double doors are only supposed to be use for loading purposes or for our disabled visitors.

Please use either the front doors, the doors at the North end of the [content management cubicle farm] or the doors at the back of the building by the mailroom. All three of those entrances provide double security while entering the building.

Your help on this would be greatly appreciated.

Recently on the way back from lunch, That Guy parked in a spot convenient to the big double-doors facing the main driveway out of the building. Those aren’t the main entrances, but the double-door was right there, and his car was right there, and he figured, “okay, why not?” After all, the north entrance and the mailroom entrance were both a long walk.

His keycard opened the doors; he went to his desk and sat down.

A couple of minutes later, That Guy saw the Big Boss walk to a Middle Manager’s office, say a few words, then stroll away. About a minute after that (this particular Middle Manager is a pretty fast typist), That Guy (and everyone else in the entire building) received the e-mail above.

The north entrance, by the way, does not provide double security. It appears to, but once you’ve keycarded your way into the vestibule (which leads to the room where That Guy’s office is, the north stairs, and the north restrooms), you can enter the building with impunity. The second security door isn’t locked. No one seems to have noticed, either. That Guy hasn’t tried the mailroom entrance yet; he never parks back there, or has any reason to go to that mailroom. After all, his mailbox isn’t in the mailroom. (Funny how that works.)

The front door is the most time-consuming of all. If the receptionist doesn’t see you and let you in, or if it’s after-hours, you have to key into the first vestibule, key into the second vestibule, then either (a) walk through the waiting area and key into the double-doors there or (b) key into the receptionist’s area, near the elevator and restrooms. The keycard response system in this building, by the way, is very slow; two seconds to recognize the card, and another two to actually unlock the door.

Now, That Guy doesn’t want to hate on the receptionist, because she really is a very nice, very friendly woman who, to her credit, tries to intercept annoying callers before they waste the time of other employees. But she also loves — loves — to chat. Sometimes, after her lunch break, she’ll stroll through the building and say hi to people. And that’s fine, most of the time. It’s just that That Guy sometimes — okay, often — doesn’t feel like having more than just the most perfunctory casual conversations, and the receptionist, as was said, loves to chat.

That Guy feels a twinge of pity for her, too; in the office where she used to sit, she was insulated from the hallway by a second door. In her current office, she has no barrier between the opening to her area and the central restroom entrance. Those restrooms echo. A lot. And people in this building love their Mexican food.

Go on. Connect the dots.

So… security concerns aside — and they really would be aside if the company didn’t leave the front gates at the end of the driveway wide open — why can’t employees use the big doors? If it’s raining, rain might blow in on the carpet, and that (That Guy guesses) is a legitimate concern, but it wasn’t raining when That Guy used the door. Is there a toll that must be paid? Does the company pay a dollar to the hinge company each time the doors open?

Most likely it’s just another Inexplicable Memo From Above.

the coffee gourmand (and the coffee snob) August 28, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Staff.
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The Coffee Gourmand

Photo used under CC license; by Flickr user midnightlounge.

The Coffee Gourmand. The Coffee Gourmand is someone you might actually want to have around. While everyone else sits around complaining how bad the coffee is — or spends $4 going out to Starbucks every day — this guy takes the time to go to the grocery store and pick up a bag of good coffee. Maybe not great coffee — maybe it’s just store-brand — but it’s better than the crap the company buys for you. He’ll also provide high-quality creamer and sugar and such.

The Coffee Gourmand is all well and good if he’s just a gourmand. But some Coffee Gourmands are actually Coffee Snobs. Those are the ones you want to stay away from. Come in with a cup of McDonald’s Iced Coffee and you’ll be treated to a treatise on how terrible it tastes compared to brewing your own and putting ice in it. Starbucks? Oppressed workers and overpriced beans. And if you should happen to visit your favorite private coffee house, be prepared for a long discussion about how your coffee shop stands up to his in terms of price, flavor, relative heat, and ambiance.

You may have more than one Coffee Gourmand at your office. You may have one who brings in flavored coffee, one who brings in gourmet coffee, one who brews coffee strong enough to put hair on your backside no matter how much you depilate, and one who haunts the cubicles around the kitchen, waiting for someone to brew gourmet coffee — but she never brings any of her own.

Coffee drinkers, watch out for the various varieties of the Coffee Gourmand, and be on the lookout for the Coffee Snob. If you have these people at your office, you might want to switch to Coke. You’ll still have to listen to them talk, but at least you won’t get yelled at.

take your money and go home August 27, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Did I Hear That Right?.
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Dramatis Personae:

Dan’s Widget Company: A company that makes widgets.
Dan: Owner of Dan’s Widget Company. Friends with Elizabeth.
Elizabeth: A highly-placed VP at That Guy’s job.
Friendly Creative Group: The third-party group That Guy’s company contracts with to build advertisements. Clients have to pay extra for this, but the work is very good.
Ginormous Corporation: Where That Guy works, for the sake of argument.
Helen: The sales manager in charge of the Dan’s Widget Company account.
Idiots-R-Us Agency: The advertising agency that Dan’s Widget Company hired.

The Facts Are These:

It’s never good when a business owner is friends with a VP at your company. In this case, Dan’s Widget Company has contracted the Idiots-R-Us Agency to provide both ad creative and a survey that runs via javascript. The agency, who — as expected — has no idea how to do this the right way, threw Ginormous Corporation a bunch of files and a line of code and said “Here. Do.”

That Guy has a track record of taking “Here. Do.” and making it turn out right. But not this time. This time, Idiots-R-Us didn’t make the creatives correctly, nor are they aware of the fact that That Guy has to basically write an entire webpage for each ad to make it display correctly.

That Guy went to Helen, the sales manager in charge of this contract, and told her what was wrong. But That Guy is under time constraints, because for the next ten days, he’s been loaned out to another department and won’t be able to finish this (or any) project until he gets back. No one in any other department comprehends this problem.

Ginormous Corporation has had problems with Dan’s Widget Company before. Last year, they said “Here. Do.” with an ad project that they didn’t feel like paying Friendly Creative Group (our ad-design agency) to complete. They just said “these other guys were able to do it, so why can’t you?” That Guy spent literally a full week figuring out how to make the ad work, and then the rep at Iditos-R-Us complained not only to us and to sales but also to our local branch manager. That Guy’s boss almost got fired because the guy at Idiots-R-Us wasn’t happy, and the guy at Idiots-R-Us couldn’t possibly be made happy because Dan’s Widget Company (which, by the way, is a humongous business) said “don’t pay extra, just make them do it.”

Yeah, see, at Ginormous Corporation, That Guy’s division (of the three main corporate divisions) has the fewest people and the least corporate support, but is the second-most visible. And this division can’t call the help desk for another division because those help desks have been told not to help out in any way.

Explain that one.

So anyway, Helen slashed the price of the package by almost half, promised so much free advertising that she practically throws up a little in her mouth every time she thinks about it (that’s what she told That Guy over lunch last month, anyway), and is still dealing with this crap.

And after today’s debacle, That Guy walked into his boss’s office and said, “can we please just tell Dan’s Widget Company to take their money and go home?” The company has reached the point of diminishing returns with the business.

But Dan’s Widget Company will never go away because their owner, Dan, is friends with Elizabeth. Elizabeth is one of the VPs so high above That Guy that when she says jump, he does, and then says “when can I touch the floor again?” There’s no one in our building who has the guts or the authority to sit down with management and say “Dan’s Widget Company is not worth the money; they put our people through hell to get what they want, and they don’t pay nearly market value for it, and we let them get away with it. I don’t care if the owner’s your friend, Elizabeth… it’s time to cut them loose.”

Seriously. Take your money and go home.

company-wide division-straddling project meeting August 26, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Conference Call, Meeting Minutes.
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Last Wednesday, That Guy sat in on a company-wide, division-straddling conference call with added WebEx goodness. Here are some of the things he heard:

* “Let’s wait a few minutes to let everyone call in.” Because those of us who showed up promptly at 3pm felt like having our time wasted.

* “We won’t be answering specific questions on this call, so you’ll have to send them through e-mail.”

* Once again, the call focused on technology that specifically excludes That Guy’s division.

* “Can everybody see?” The person actually doing the instructional portion of the training was getting very, very frazzled by the fact that people were complaining about screen size. A common WebEx problem.

* Poor phone sound quality != good conference call.

* The one corporate guy on the call from That Guy’s division had had enough and finally said, “[Group leader], none of what you’re saying applies to the 23 offices in my division.” To which the Group Leader said, “okay, well, let’s talk about that off the call.” Why the 23 offices in That Guy’s division didn’t just log off in disgust is completely beyond comprehension.

* One of the people on the call — That Guy is pretty sure it was the representative from the third-party company providing the new technology — had a child who occasionally piped up.

* No one wanted to answer questions:
“I have a question, and it is x.”
*long pause*
“This is [Group Leader]. Can the person from [Third Party] answer that?”
*long pause*
“This is [Third Party]. Yeah, we don’t have plans to support that at this time.”
“This is [IT helpdesk for That Guy’s company]. Send us e-mails if you need help and we’ll try to get in touch with [Third Party] to get you answers.”
For what it’s worth, That Guy has followed those instructions to no avail.

* The phrase “action item” was used.

* The person who shared her desktop to run the instructional portion of the session was using IE6. That’s very disheartening.

* The third-party company is only supporting one small facet of a project that That Guy’s office, as an individual branch, completely supported on their own. That’s like saying HP only does support for their inkjet printers, but not their PCs, laser printers, cameras or fax machines; if you want support on those, figure it out yourself.

* One legitimate complaint of the third-party vendor is that they’re limited by the data That Guy’s company has provided. The company’s 100+ branches only got their system logins a couple of weeks ago; the sheer volume of data is overwhelming, and no additional money has been provided on a corporate level to do this project. No wonder the data’s not there… or wrong.

* All of the problems being reported by everyone except That Guy’s division will be solved in the next version of the software. Big surprise.

“at this time” August 26, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Definition.
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at this time
(at this time)

“At this time” is a phrase you usually hear during the implementation process of a new product feature or technology workflow. It usually comes with other words such as “that’s not something we’re going to address/support/do at this time.”

Here’s the thing: something that won’t be done at this time is almost always something that should have been done long before this point. Let’s say, for example, that you work for Office Depot. At Office Depot in the late 90s, stores were served by an inventory computer; if store 10 is out of an item, they can check the computer and see if stores 20, 30, or 40 have said item. The inventory management system is updated every night at midnight by the in-store computer system.

What if the in-store computer system couldn’t break the data down by type? In other words, what if a customer wants Item 123456 (maybe it’s a printer), but all stores are out of it? On the web, a customer would see other items s/he might like, such as 234567 or 345678.

You’re highly likely to hear, especially on a company-wide, corporate-run, third-party-provider-involved conference call/webex combo, that you can’t look up all printers at this time? You can only look up all electronics equipment (which includes printers, faxes, phones, tape recorders, hard drives, and so on) or all HP equipment (which includes computers, printers, projectors, paper, ink, and so on). The company has no plans at this time to make items searchable by subcategory.

Everyone on the conference call groans loudly, protected by their muting feature. Everyone turns to the one or two people in the small office and bemoans the sheer lack of foresight on behalf of the third-party company that your corporate office just bought a majority stake in. Everyone on the call then begins formulating ways to get around “at this time”.

But why waste the energy? When you’re halfway done, the third-party company will engage in a round of congratulatory handshaking that they just enabled the subcategory feature. Sort of. You’ll be able to search for other HP printers, but not other printers from other manufacturers. The third-party company will be so thrilled with their half-measure that they won’t even bother building in full functionality. It’s not something they’ve planned for at this time.

Full Disclosure: That Guy worked for Office Depot from 1995 to 2003. The above example did not occur during his tenure with the company. It is simply an example.

That Guy’s Tips for Corporate Success, #3 August 25, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Tips for Corporate Success.
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Bosses have forgotten how to critique tactfully… or even constructively.

This morning, That Guy said he was working on a fairly-large project that of course couldn’t be started until today. He mentioned off-hand to his boss that he was working on it. Apparently he misunderstood the project, which is understandable in and of itself.

But instead of saying “oh. We were actually going to do it this way, so if you could change it to that…” he got “Why are you doing that? Don’t do that without being sure of what we’re doing so you don’t waste your time.”

And then the boss just walked away to do whatever it is bosses do in their offices. Probably bide time between meetings.

With the amount of projects That Guy has on his plate, all of which are TEH MOST IMPORTANT THING EVAR!!!!111ONE, one would think That Guy’s boss would perhaps volunteer to do a little coding of his own.

One would think.

That Guy at least expected an “oh. Oh, well, that’s not right, but can you reuse your code to make the project the other way instead?” It’s like the boss assumes that code isn’t modifiable or reuseable. That Guy supposes it’s only to be expected by a boss who does more in Design View than Code View.

This quote came to mind while writing this tip:

How can we hope to remain economically competitive in a world in which…90% of Dutch high-school students take advanced math courses and 100% of teachers in Germany have double majors, while the best we can say about our “pocket of excellence” is that 75% of [American] students have learned to “critique tactfully?” (Barbara J. Alexander)

That Guy’s Tips for Corporate Success, #2 August 22, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Tips for Corporate Success.
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The boss is exempt, and it will drive you crazy.

That Guy was asked by the corporate web developer to use our company’s testing server for doing all coding, and then, once the coding was complete, move the files over to the live server. That Guy has no problem with doing this, and in fact endorses the practice.

That Guy’s boss does not.

Recently, a project that had to be changed after That Guy left for the day. That Guy’s boss took care of it. Then, when That Guy came to work the next day, he went in and started making more changes, not realizing that the boss had already made some. On the live server. Not on the testing server.

He’s complained good-naturedly to the corporate web developer about the boss’s practices. He’s talked to his co-workers. He’s even talked to the boss. But when push comes to shove, the boss just doesn’t bother to follow the company-mandated rule for web development.

Because, as is common in the corporate world, bosses are exempt from all rules except the ones they want to follow, and it will drive you crazy.

mr. fix-it August 21, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Staff.
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Photo used under CC license; by Flickr user star5112.

Photo used under CC license; by Flickr user star5112.

Mr. Fix-It. Oh, you love Mr. Fix-It. You know you love him. Whenever you can’t remember an e-mail or a phone number, whenever you need an obscure fact, whenever there’s a question that isn’t part of his job description, Mr. Fix-it is ready to help you!

That is, until Mr. Fix-It doesn’t know the answer.

Mr. Fix-It is that guy in your family who’s always talking about his awesome new computer and all the great stuff it can do. He’s the guy who says, “I’ll be glad to go to Circuit City with you and help you pick out the right computer!” He’s the guy who gets all the TigerDirect mailings only to toss them in the trash, unread. He’s the guy who knows everything there is to know about your computer, your cell phone, your car stereo, your GPS, and your digital camera.

Until he doesn’t know. Then Mr. Fix-It rapidly becomes Mr. Get-the-Hell-Away-From-Me. Mr. Fix-It can un-jam a printer, but if the printer keeps saying it’s jammed after he works his “magic”, he gives up. Mr. Fix-It can give you cell phone tips, but he can’t guarantee they’ll definitely work on your phone, and when they don’t, he washes his hands of you. And Mr. Fix-It is all nice and helpful when his workload is light, but if he’s in the middle of a project (or is even just having a bad day), he shuts down and is totally unhelpful.

And that’s when Mr. Fix-It is at his worst, because if you know anything about the problem at hand, Mr. Fix-It will tell people you can help. Mr. Fix-It is one of those guys who is only helpful when it benefits him, or when it’s easy, or when he can sound like a really smart guy while actually pulling answers out of his backside.

Another problem with Mr. Fix-It is that he gets abused. IT guys are sometimes hard to find, or they might have important problems to solve (like, say, the building e-mail server going down because Katie in Sales forwarded a virus to everyone on the entire corporate network — all 3,000 people), or they’re just sick of making your $2,000 computer work on a dial-up connection when you clearly have the means to get an aircard or similar. So people keep coming to Mr. Fix-It for help with small problems, and either the problems can’t be solved by Mr. Fix-It (legitimately) or he just doesn’t feel like dealing with your crap (equally likely).

In the end, Mr. Fix-It will regret sharing his technical knowledge with anyone at the office, but the damage will have been done, and he’ll be fixing your computer and updating your cell phone for the rest of his tenure at the office… and maybe even beyond.

weekly departmental meeting August 20, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Departmental, Meeting Minutes.
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Here are some things we discussed in our weekly departmental meeting:

* Blamestorming.
* If everything is important, nothing is important, and communicating that to various other departments. (Shortly thereafter, my boss made a comment about how everything is important again.)
* When there are only a few people in a tiny room, why does everyone speak so loudly?
* No communication between departments. It’s very circular that way around here.
* We’re expecting our biggest problem department to get a new manager very soon. That person has already been announced. Everyone who has a problem with the problem department is treating the new manager like a holy grail. However, I think everyone is expecting the grail to be filled with poo, not gold, no matter how talked-up this new person is. I know I am.
* Everything is important, so everything is an emergency.
* Work is duplicated intradepartmentally because no one talks to anyone else.
* Our lives would be easier if IT hooked up a certain cable. IT is too lazy to hook up said cable.
* Half our department can’t access content to monitor what’s going on. No one cares.
* The problem department has desks our department has to work at from time to time. They’re designed to damage backs, and the monitors are too far away to see.
* A second reference to the holy grail manager.

This is relatively short, but it’s almost COB, and I really want to get out of here. I have a corporate conference call to chronicle for you too. I’ll do that tomorrow.

That Guy’s Tips for Corporate Success, #1 August 20, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Tips for Corporate Success.
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Know everyone in the room before you start talking.

That Guy pulled a bit of a faux pas this week. He was a little early to a meeting and found two people already there, one of whom — Daniel — he’s worked with on various sales projects. Daniel was talking to a reasonably-attractive woman — Elaine — about a medical procedure. Well, That Guy knew a little something about that medical procedure, and as he was putting his notebook down, he broke in with a comment of his own. Then he left to use the restroom.

And suddenly realized that he didn’t know Elaine. He recognized her, to be sure, but from where, he didn’t know. So after using the restroom, That Guy returned and, embarrassedly, said, “I’m sorry, but… I don’t think I remember your name.”

It turned out it was Elaine, from the sales department. Which is good, because That Guy had a moment of panic that he might have just denigrated a client and that client’s business.

So, That Guy’s Tip for Corporate Success for today: know everyone in the room — or at least what they do and why they’re there — before you start talking about anything. Including the weather.