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my problem with give-and-take August 31, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Lessons Learned, The Two-Year-Old.
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What we were always taught as children is: be fair. If you do something for me, I need to do something of equal perceived value for you. Perhaps it isn’t fair in your eyes, but it is in mine. This is also a founding principle in sports trades — perhaps Randy Moss was only worth a fourth-round pick to Al Davis and Bill Belichick back when he was traded to the Patriots. Davis felt he was getting a fair shake, so both sides were satisfied.

If your boss is on the other side, you lose. (CC-licensed photo by toffehoff)

If your boss is on the other side, you lose. (CC-licensed photo by toffehoff)

Unfortunately that doesn’t happen a lot at work.

The trick of give-and-take is to not overload one side — either perceived or actual overload. That happened to me last week. I went to the Two-Year-Old with an idea: we have this topical blog network, and I offered to write a new blog in the network about a subject that interests me — let’s say, for the sake of argument, I’m going to write about professional wrestling*. Writing blog entries about the world of wrestling will make me happy, and I’ll be able to bring to bear my not-inconsiderable writing talent** and wrestling knowledge to the table. Many people will read and enjoy my words as a result.

She was fine with the idea. But while I was sitting in front of her, she hit me with an “oh, by the way…”

Yes. That’s right. I’m now in charge of making sure people remember they have to consider the web side of their projects during planning meetings. That’s going to eat up about three hours every morning. Some of my web development duties are going to be shifted to the new corporate guy, which I guess is fine, but the problem here is that I don’t have any real power. I just have to be in charge without being able to pass punitive judgment on employees who refuse to do the web right (if at all).

But that’s what she decided would be the price of running this blog, and now I’m stuck with it. To me, it’s unfair — taking on a ton of responsibility in exchange for spending maybe 30-40 minutes every couple of days doing something I actually enjoy and getting paid for it. I really wish I could take it back, but it’s too late.

Beware the management definition of give-and-take. It will rarely end in your favor.

It was so easy living day by day
Out of touch with the rhythm and blues
But now I need a little give and take
The New York Times, The Daily News

–Billy Joel, “New York State of Mind”

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* I haven’t been seriously interested in professional wrestling since about 1999, but the principle is sound.

** If I do say so myself.

take a drink of water August 28, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Seen Elsewhere.
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From MLIA:

Today, I had to go to the bathroom, but when I saw my boss go into the bathroom first I got a drink from the fountain instead because I didn’t want to stand next to him at the urinal. MLIA

Related: Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

this is not time-management August 28, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Did I Hear That Right?, Seen Elsewhere, Wasting Time.
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From MLIA:

Tonight I was reading my daughter her favorite bedtime story, but she wasn’t paying attention. So, after the third page I skipped to the end and read the last page. She never noticed and fell asleep within a few minutes. I added excellent time management skills to my resume.

The interesting thing about the requirement for “good time-management skills” is that it doesn’t take into account how you manage all of your time. What interviewers want to hear is that you can multitask — that you can do multiple tasks at the same time, or get all your work done before the deadline. What they don’t want to hear is the truth: you get your work done, you get it done right, you get it done on time, and you still have time to read blogs or check Facebook. Or both.

I for one have never been late finishing a project because of my use of Facebook or my reading of RSS feeds. That’s good time-management too.

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the wrong ways you talk to your web guys August 27, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Experiences, Seen Elsewhere, Technology Trouble.
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I really need to stop reading Smashing Magazine because every time I do I find more things that my company refuses to get right. Today it’s communicating with developers.

As a designer, you don’t need to have every single page thought out before starting development, but it is helpful to stay ahead of the developers. Plan your features accordingly, and make sure you at least have some type of structure (HTML, etc) ready to go when they need it. It is a lot easier for developers to come through on a polished page and insert data where it is needed instead of creating the page from scratch and having the designer come in after them.

It’s more likely that the marketing department will come to you with a vague drawing born of a brainstorming session, and said drawing will be full of features that you can’t provide because either they don’t exist or because your company is so enamored of its walled garden that you’re not allowed to use that new technology. And they won’t give you a full design, either; they’ll give you some chunks of artwork and hope you can get it to work. Oh, and if you don’t use their fonts, they’ll bitch until you build a ton of tiny JPEGs full of font (that you’ll then have to change 60 or 70 times apiece) because that font is the linchpin — the linchpin — of the project.

It is also important to try not to change the design while the developers is in the middle of developing that specific feature. […] As designers, we should try to avoid any type of refactoring of the UI as we can. It is tedious work for developers to go back and change HTML.

Changing a few things here and there is acceptable. Changing the entire focus of the project? Not so much.

It is also important to not drop off the project here. At the least, be available by e-mail so the developers can contact you about issues with your designs. Respond quickly to ensure your developers are staying on track with the final product. Once again, be decisive in your communication. Most of the time, the real data doesn’t match what you mocked up, and there are many issues you will need to work out in conjunction with your developer.

Let’s repeat that part:

Most of the time, the real data doesn’t match what you mocked up.

Learn this, marketing departments. Learn it and remember it.

Avoid Feature Creep

I’ve got a whole post on this that I’m in the middle of writing.

As designers, we can quickly turn around designs in a few days and be done with it. Unfortunately, this is not the case for development. The ratio of design to development hours is not even close to 1:1. Make sure your deadlines allow enough time for the developer to implement the features, as well as any back and forth time for questions.

What is born of a series of meetings usually ends up being coded over the course of two weeks, with the lion’s share being done furiously at the last minute because someone — or, more likely, several someones across multiple departments — didn’t bother to get their deliverables in on time. Of course, it’s the web guy who always gets in trouble when this happens.

Don’t rely on your developers to write perfect code, as it will never happen. You can’t always rely on developers to test their code to make sure it functions properly, fulfills requirements and ultimately works in the manner you described. But remember, developers don’t write buggy code on purpose.

As fewer people are doing more with less, it’s become virtually impossible to get anyone to proofread your stuff. You can show it to people and they’ll say “oh, that’s great, that’s perfect”, but they won’t proofread. They won’t take an hour or two to read all the text, check your spelling, and click every button. (That’s what interns are for, if you’re lucky enough to have them.) In the old days, my boss used to want me to send him everything so he could proofread and check it. Of course, he never did, and then it became my fault when something was wrong. If companies can’t be bothered to have someone make time for quality control, then why are we developers trying so hard in the first place? We’re just going to get in trouble for every single mistake we made trying to get the project done on an impossible deadline.

In an ideal world, none of this would happen. But we’ll never have an ideal world, so let’s just try to educate our bosses on the right way to talk to us. If we’re lucky, we won’t get fired for it.

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That Guy’s Tips For Not Looking Stupid On The Internet, #3 August 26, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Tips for Not Looking Stupid.
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Use professional fonts.

fonts

I couldn’t even use those fonts in WordPress because WordPress knows that you shouldn’t use them for professional communication. I could probably hack the stylesheet, but why?

Professional fonts include, but are not limited to:

  • Arial
  • Calibri (default font for MS Outlook 2007)
  • Courier/Courier New
  • Helvetica (the new hotness)
  • Myriad Pro
  • Tahoma (what I use in my own e-mails)
  • Times New Roman (falling out of favor, but still acceptable)
  • Verdana

What do all of these fonts have in common? Simple: they’re all easy to read. You have to make your e-mailed communications easy to read or people won’t read them.

The CorporateSpeak research director uses TwCen/Century Gothic, and in that light-blue color. It’s almost impossible to read her e-mails, and they’re not the kind I can ignore easily because I need that data. Some of our marketing people use this version of Bodoni on their meeting handouts, which seems nice on the screen but doesn’t translate well into print.

Think about what your favorite books and websites use. Even humor sites use the fonts above. You should too. Follow this rule: if someone’s used it in a brightly-colored or sparkly MySpace layout, you probably shouldn’t use it at work.

And, for the love of all that’s holy, avoid Comic Sans like the plague.

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fast and perfect August 25, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Pictures, Seen Elsewhere.
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Dilbert.com

Your boss wants it fast, perfect, under-budget, before-deadline, outside-the-box, groundbreaking, social-networked, and every other buzzword.

Good luck with that.

useless buzzwords August 25, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Pictures, Seen Elsewhere.
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It burns! It burns!

licd20090811

office revelation 3:16 August 24, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Observations.
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Revelation 3:16 can be translated thusly:

Be thou hot or cold. Be thou lukewarm and I will spit thee out of my mouth.

Wonderful image, isn’t it? And yet so frequently seen at offices around the U.S., no one is comfortable: half the employees are hot, and half are cold. We all want to be lukewarm — that is, comfortable — but everyone feels comfort at a different temperature.

In our old building, my desk was near the server room, which was kept quite cold, as server rooms often are. It wasn’t as well-secured as it should have been, and the big door that led into it — we called it the refrigerator door — was almost always left standing open. My co-workers would often grumble as they walked past me to shut the door. I personally didn’t mind; I like it cool. To me, that’s comfortable.

In the new building, the temperature fluctuates quite a bit, at least to me. Sometimes I’m very warm. Sometimes I’m cool and comfortable. Occasionally I’m quite cold. Many days, though, my body can’t decide what it wants. I keep a fan on my desk in case it gets hot in here — a common problem at every one of my places of work — and like as not I’ll turn it on for a few minutes, get cold, turn it off, heat up, turn it on, get cold, and repeat ad nauseum. My co-workers are in a similar situation. I’m sure yours are too.

Perhaps in an office the verse should be:

Be thou hot or cold. Be thou lukewarm and you’re probably not sitting in the same room as the rest of us.

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This was post 300.

let’s just do it ourselves August 21, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Big Boss, Did I Hear That Right?, Management, Technology Trouble.
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This was going to be a post about cargo cults and social networking, but a friend of mine recently told me about something her company did that put the average company’s cargo culting to shame.

Celia is a graphic designer for a web marketing company. You’ve probably seen her work in some of those silly Flash games showing up in banner ads when you check your e-mail or visit popular websites. Anyway, Celia was part of a series of meetings where various companies pitched their services in building iPhone apps out of their more-popular games. It would have been Celia’s job to make sure the art was available to these third-party vendors.

Celia told me her boss went back and forth with their Big Boss several times over the cost of doing business with the vendors — not that it would’ve cost a ton of money, but in this economic climate no one wants to spend cash if they don’t have to. Celia’s boss got to the point where a contract was drawn up and vetted by both legal departments… and then her Big Boss said “let’s just do it ourselves.”

One of Celia’s co-workers is named Larry. Larry is a Flash developer; he takes the art Celia makes and puts it into the games. Larry knows Flash and ActionScript, and a little PHP, but he’s not an expert with the iPhone SDK or the programming language that the iPhone is built upon. Still, the Big Boss said Larry could do it, so Larry had to teach himself the SDK (of course there was no training budget). Celia helped as much as she could, but she’s an artist, not a programmer. And none of the web guys at Celia’s office knew how to do it either. Larry seriously considered hiring an iPhone developer to do it for him, but he couldn’t afford it.

Two weeks later, Larry had his first iPhone app ready to go. It was a very simple side-scrolling shooter based upon a Flash game he’d coded for the company. Celia sent me a copy.

CC-licensed photo by William Hook, remixed by That Guy

CC-licensed photo by William Hook, remixed by That Guy

It was awful. The controls weren’t good, the graphics weren’t good, the game was slow to load and clunky to play, and it didn’t have the slick look that the iPhone is so capable of presenting to users. I can’t see how anyone would pay $1.99 for this app — that’s what the Big Boss wanted to charge for it, so that’s how much the company was going to charge.

I feel really bad for Celia, Larry, and their company. Celia, because she has to work at a company that will cut corners this way; Larry, because his first iPhone app is so bad — I’ve seen Larry’s Flash work and it’s frankly amazing; and the company, because they’re going to have their name attached to an absolutely atrocious piece of software.

Let this be a lesson that no company will heed: there are some things you just have to pay for because doing it yourself will make it look like ass. You don’t necessarily have to spend a ton of money, but sometimes you do have to spend it to make it. Given the size of the iPhone’s user footprint and the sheer visibility of everything iPhone, that’s one place where you should pay someone else to make sure you do it right.

Hopefully Celia’s Big Boss learned his lesson. Doubt it, though; Big Bosses never do.

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the more they overcomplicate the plumbing August 20, 2009

Posted by That Guy in A Stunning Example of Synergy, Technology Trouble.
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In Star Trek III, Mr. Scott said of the U.S.S. Excelsior:

The more they overcomplicate the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain.

James Doohan as Captain Montgomery Scott

James Doohan as Captain Montgomery Scott

Monday morning, my co-worker Bill had to transfer a video from DVD to our proprietary system. Now, when Bill used to work in Jackson, MS, he could pop the DVD into a DVD player, press play, and press record on the computer system. It wasn’t a perfect system, but the quality was good and it took him all of five minutes for a four-minute video.

Bill and I both work in a major city now — you’d know it instantly if I named it for you. You’d think that when Bill got here things would be at least as easy.

You’d be wrong.

Here are things we don’t have here:

  • A DVD player hooked up to any computer system anywhere in the building. (DVD players in PCs notwithstanding.)
  • A connection from the DVD player to the video editing suite. (All of our mega-awesome video editing software is in a single suite.
  • A connection from the video editing suite to any network drives Bill can access from his desk. (He has to edit the video, then export it and send it to himself via FTP.)

So here’s what Bill had to do to obtain a four-minute piece of video that someone sent us on a playable DVD:

  1. Put the DVD in the DVD player.
  2. Find someone who can let him into the server room (our keycards don’t work; only IT’s do).
  3. Find someone in IT who can cross-connect the system in such a way that the DVD player is spliced into the internal CCTV network and the internal CCTV network is sent down to the video editing suite.
  4. Go to the video editing suite (on a different floor than the server room) and reboot the computer he needs (because it’s ancient and needs to be rebooted before each use).
  5. Start recording from the CCTV network, wasting hard-drive space.
  6. Go to the DVD player and press play.
  7. When the computer finishes recording the footage, edit it down to remove all the useless parts.
  8. Export the footage in a format that his computer can read.
  9. Upload the file to the FTP.
  10. Go to his desk and download the file from the FTP.
  11. Put the file into the Flash component where it’s going to play from.

Total time spent: one hour. For a four-minute piece of video.

This is why we tell our clients to upload the video to our vendor FTP.

The more your company overcomplicates the plumbing, the easier it is to kill productivity and lower employee morale. When employees like Bill come to the big city after working in smaller cities where everything works — not perfectly, but efficiently — they get discouraged and their productivity as a whole slows down. That extra 45-50 minutes Bill spent getting the DVD player to play in the video editing suite could’ve been spent responding to e-mails, or planning out new projects, or coding, or eating lunch. With the amount of meetings and e-mails the average employee has to deal with each day, every productive minute counts, and wasting that much on a tiny chunk of video that’s less than 10 percent of the entire project is extremely disheartening.

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