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expanding on the idea killer: the marketing manager October 2, 2009

Posted by That Guy in A Stunning Example of Synergy, Management, Observations, Pictures, Seen Elsewhere.
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This is the third post in the “idea killer” series, based upon three images I posted on September 28.

I’ve spoken at length about how there are final hurdles — people whose job it is to find the flaw in the plan, that one sticking point that’s going to take your carefully-constructed project and make you redo all of it, usually at the very last minute. That person is most often the marketing manager.

cs_marketingmgr

Marketing managers, unfortunately, perform a very vital task at any company: it’s the marketing manager’s job to figure out if something is marketable at all, and if so, how that will be done. They’re generally operating on reduced budgets and with too-few people, and they’re trying to do everything and satisfy everyone:

  • Big Bosses. The Big Boss wants to see everything he already knows. He doesn’t want it to be new. He wants magazine ads, television spots, radio jingles, the works. Oh, and billboards. Lots of those.
  • Webmasters. Anyone who’s come up through the web world knows that it’s the web where brands are built these days — blogs, robust websites, mobile apps, and so on. Marketing on the web generally costs less, but it’s harder to do because you have to know where and when the right place and time are to make your buys. Webmasters know this stuff, but unfortunately marketing managers don’t know enough and don’t listen to them. Instead, when it comes to online, they listen to…
  • The Marketing Team. These guys (and girls) are the absolute worst. They’re bucking for their own positions as marketing managers; they want to show that they have a reason for drawing a paycheck. So they point to their favorite buzzwords: social networking. They’ll put a disproportionate amount of time and effort into Twitter and Facebook — or, worse, force the webmaster to develop a local social media application that lives inside the walled garden and doesn’t play well with others. Then they’ll call it a success when someone fans the product on Facebook. Because, you know, that’s the best place to spend your marketing dollars.
  • Interns. They’re there to prove they’ve got what it takes, and interns — who are still in college and are still part of that vital network of college kids with disposable income who will buy your product no matter how crappy it is. So they promise to energize their awesome group of local young people to hawk the product. It’s basically building viral marketing, which is good in theory, but interns don’t know how to do it. No one does — it happens completely by accident, and usually too late to capitalize upon.

Y’know who’s not there? The person who built the product or service or offering. That person won’t be lucky enough to be involved in the marketing efforts, but he or she damn well better make all the changes marketing wants made or else.

This is why people don’t come up with new ideas anymore: they’re tired of their ideas getting bogged down in committee, which is really a horrible feeling. Now, if you’re lucky, the marketing department will only make cosmetic changes — in a full site redesign I did a few years ago, all they did was add big chunky graphics to my nice, clean layout — but that luck doesn’t come around more than once a year. If that.

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expanding on the idea killer: the legal department September 30, 2009

Posted by That Guy in A Stunning Example of Synergy, Experiences.
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This is the first of three posts on idea killers, based on pictures I posted on September 28.

Y’know what the best part is about the legal department killing your idea? That they usually get to it before you do too much work, so you have less to scrap.

cs_legal

I’m not going to say that legal departments are all bad, because they’re not. In fact, they’re more like unions — they defend you (and your company) from all things bad: clients that think you’ve reneged on contracts or people who accuse you of slander and libel because your company has money. Unfortunately, they’re more likely to shoot down your awesome ideas because you want to do groundbreaking things that involve untested technologies or collaboration with the competition, and we can’t have that.

Legal’s job is also to make sure no one steals your ideas. That is, they put such tight locks on everything you do that not only can you not talk about them to other people in your network of fellow experts, but if anyone else comes up with the same idea, they will instantly shoot yours down so your own company isn’t accused of theft.

It’s tough to be in the legal department. It’s even tougher to be their victim.

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countdown to Jupiter September 16, 2009

Posted by That Guy in A Stunning Example of Synergy, Technology Trouble.
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You probably know that it’s best to reboot your computer every few days, just to clean out your virtual memory and get everything refreshed. Here at CorporateSpeak we have one server that, if you don’t reboot it every week (or more frequently than that), it crashes, usually at a very inopportune moment. And no, it can’t be updated or replaced because we can’t afford the software upgrades that would come along with it. It’s also a very heavily-used server — there’s years worth of data on it, much of which isn’t backed up (because, again, to back it up would cost money we don’t have). Nearly everyone on this half of the building uses it. It’s almost always full, and temporary files are never cleaned out by the people who create them.

So we reboot it the minimum number of times, which is once per week. I know, surprising that they even do it that often.

It's 2:00. Log off. Or else.

It's 2:00. Log off. Or else.

Anyway, every Monday or so, we get an e-mail from IT saying “The Jupiter server will be rebooted at 2 p.m. Tuesday”.

Then on Tuesday morning: “The Jupiter server will be rebooted at 2 p.m. today.”

Tuesday at noon: “The Jupiter server will be rebooted in two hours — at 2 p.m.”

Tuesday at 1:00: “The Jupiter server will be rebooted in one hour — at 2 p.m.”

Tuesday at 1:30: “The Jupiter server will be rebooted in 30 minutes — at 2 p.m.”

Tuesday at 1:45: “The Jupiter server will be rebooted in 15 minutes — at 2 p.m.”

Tuesday at 1:55, the IT guy will go on the intercom and say, quite clearly, and twice, “The Jupiter server will be rebooted in five minutes. Please save your work and log off. Thank you.”

Then, at 2:00, all hell breaks loose. They make another announcement on the intercom. Someone comes into the room where I work and yells loudly that Jupiter is being shut down, so everyone has to log off. Three IT techs go through the room and manually log off every computer that employees didn’t bother to correctly shut down when they finished working. And, invariably, someone says “I just need five minutes!”

They’re given that five minutes every time.

It takes about an hour to reboot Jupiter and run it through the startup procedure so the rest of the computers reconnect to it properly. From 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., people always ask “is Jupiter up?” “Is Jupiter back up?” “How long will Jupiter be down?” “Can I use CServer yet?” (CServer is the internal content management system that runs on the Jupiter computer.) “Who’s rebooting Jupiter?” “Are you done rebooting Jupiter?” “Can we log back on yet?”

You get the idea.

At 3 p.m., the IT guy will go on the intercom to announce that Jupiter’s back up. An e-mail will be sent. Someone will shout it through the various rooms where people use Jupiter-connected computers. And still my colleagues will ask frantically if Jupiter is back yet.

You’d think they’d plan for this; they are, after all, informed a full day in advance exactly when Jupiter will be down. It’s always down for one hour; they could plan for that, too. But they don’t. They just whine and complain and extend the time Jupiter is down by not logging off when IT tells them to. They’re not just screwing themselves; they’re screwing everyone.

The best option, of course, would be to upgrade Jupiter to the latest version, called Saturn. Then we could buy licenses to Saturn, upgrade all the crappy computers Jupiter software runs on (they’re so old that installing IE6 would actually break them — that’s right: they’re still running IE5.5 as their web browsers, under Windows 2000 professional), and expedite the process by which everyone gets their work done. If only we had an extra million dollars laying around to do it with.

The countdown is the next best thing, and that, my friends, is quite sad to contemplate.

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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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can you guys get these on the web site July 14, 2009

Posted by That Guy in A Stunning Example of Synergy, Inexplicable Memos From Above, Technology Trouble.
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Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson

As you probably know by now, Michael Jackson died last month. One of the PR agencies our national office works with put out some special Michael Jackson commemorative merchandise. Setting aside the whole “profiting off the death of a famous person” thing, the key phrase here is “our national office”.

So instead of going into our servers and setting all this up for the 150 offices of CorporateSpeak across the country and in Canada and Europe, the account executive sent an e-mail to his boss asking everyone to run banner ads for this offer — because the client paid for it to run on a lot of our websites — and his boss went to his boss, and so on, all the way up the ladder and across to my division of the company, where the head of the division e-mailed the Big Bosses for each office, and the Big Bosses e-mailed the department heads, and the department heads e-mailed the web monkeys with a message something like this:

Can you guys get these on the web site

No punctuation, either.

No further information — nothing about how long they need to run, how much inventory they should get, any of that. Just “can you guys get these on the web site”.

Of course I can. I’ll put it on a page no one looks at, at the very bottom, until you give me enough information that I can do the job the right way. Not that you want that; you just want it now, and you don’t care how right it is.

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Notes:

1. Happy Bastille Day.

2. This post was originally titled trickle-down drudgery.

consolidation works! June 16, 2009

Posted by That Guy in A Stunning Example of Synergy, Success Stories.
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In the old days, if there was something I didn’t know how to do, I had one of two choices:

1. IM the people in my position at other offices and see if they could help.
2. E-mail the one developer in my division of CorporateSpeak and hope he could find the time to help me.

And then my boss — and all the webmasters — in my division were fired, replaced by a centralized web development group led by the guy in #2, who now is the manager of this new group. Of the 25 webmasters that were fired, seven of them were rehired into the new group (two others were not fired because they weren’t technically webmasters).

There was much consternation about who would be doing what on the web, especially at smaller offices. But yesterday I learned that the new centralized system works.

I was working on a project that involved a Twitter feed for one of our clients, and importing it into their CMS (which is not the CMS that we offer to all our clients, but a homebrew that they insisted we use). The code I have requires dependencies in our CMS that doesn’t work outside the system, and I didn’t know how to hack it because I don’t speak jQuery.

So I e-mailed the group.

Ten minutes later, four people had responded, and of those four, the guy in Des Moines had the best, easiest-to-use solution — he’d used it before and showed me an example.

One hour later, I had built the Twitter applet for the client and given them instructions on how to integrate it into their CMS. They were very happy.

The system works!

So, here’s the scorecard:

LOST — 18 employees, with salaries ranging from $40,000 to $90,000.
MOVED — 7 employees, same salaries, now working for an entirely different branch of the company.
GAINED — a team at corporate, equivalent to the group that services the largest branch (whereas my branch is the smallest), with specialists in .NET, Flash, JavaScript, CSS, HTML, and database development.

Photo by Flickr user thetruthabout.

Photo by Flickr user thetruthabout.

This is the way consolidation should work — it should consolidate a disparate group of people into a smaller, tighter-knit group that can focus on providing solutions. Now, the guy in Des Moines doesn’t have to call me and ask me for CSS help, or hope the one developer at corporate is available; he can talk to Melinda from Kansas City (for example), who is a CSS expert. And when I need help with Flash, I don’t have to hope that Tim in Seattle is available to help me; I e-mail the group with a request and Tim puts it on his list, which consists of only Flash projects.

I was worried at first, but it turns out that this is for the best. Finally, something has.

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“we’ve got to get that on the website now!” May 6, 2009

Posted by That Guy in A Stunning Example of Synergy, Did I Hear That Right?, Management.
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CC-licensed photo by Louise Docker

CC-licensed photo by Louise Docker

As you’re probably aware, Earth Day was two weeks ago today. Our company has always done a little something special on Earth Day; this year, we put up a page with some “greening your office” tips and changed our main page for the day.

I guess it was a busy day for management, because the Two-Year-Old came running out of her office at about eleven saying “It’s Earth Day! What are we doing for Earth Day! We have to get Earth Day on our website!”

One of my co-workers, Quincy, who is not known for caring about our website in any way, said:

That’s already on the website. We had it up more than an hour ago*.

The Two-Year-Old, who recently gave an interview to a very popular website about how our company is changing with the times, didn’t even look at our website! She specifically said our website is one of the most important parts of our business, but because we didn’t do a gigantic graphical link at the top of the page, she didn’t notice it was there (if she even went to the site at all today).

If anyone tells her about the <blink> tag, that person is going to be thrown off the roof by me and my boss. Headfirst. We’ll aim for the basketball hoop; it’s about the right distance to be a three-pointer.

Seriously. If the company is going to hire a VP to make things better, how about you make sure to hire someone who isn’t going to repeat the mistakes of the last three VPs. Start by checking the website before you fly off the handle next time.

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* Quincy comes in at 10 a.m., so that would’ve been the earliest he saw the site. It was actually up at midnight; someone in my department took care of it because no one else cared.

That Guy’s Tips for Corporate Success, #18 April 16, 2009

Posted by That Guy in A Stunning Example of Synergy, Technology Trouble, Tips for Corporate Success.
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If it’s raining on your boss, it’s raining everywhere. And your boss is only happy when it rains.

The Big Boss here at CorporateSpeak is a bit of a technological mystery. Like most corporate managers in this country, he only has the faintest grasp on (a) what goes into a website and (b) how to best use his company’s online assets — people and sites. But also like most corporate managers in this country, he obsessively pores over our websites looking for really good work we’ve done tiny errors that no one but he would notice. Sometimes they’re legitimate, but most of the time they’re not even related to our work. They’re related to the limitations put upon us by my boss and our corporate office.

Let me explain: I personally design based upon web standards. I test my pages in IE7, Firefox 3, Opera 9, Chrome (the current version; I don’t know the number), and Safari 3. I’m not so great with deprecated browser compatibility, but I do try to check out BrowserShots and at least verify the site in IE6.

CorporateSpeak, on the other hand… the corporate developer only works in IE (though he uses Firebug to diagnose errors, just like everybody else). His designs look perfect in IE7. It’s up to the rest of us to try and make them look good everywhere else. Except that when I make them look good cross-browser, my boss says “well, 90 percent of our users use IE, so let’s just code for that”. Making things look great in IE is a vastly-different process than making them look great in Firefox et al.

So, with that said, let it be known that until recently, the Big Boss used IE6. (Some computers in our office use IE5 and cannot be upgraded because they’re so old. I still laugh about that.) He would look at our site, find things to nitpick, and then get on our case about it. And it became my job to fix these nitpicks.

I just wish I could fix them without making it rain everywhere except in the Big Boss’s office. See, if it’s raining in his office, it’s raining everywhere, but if it’s sunny up there, even if it’s the eye of the storm, it’s sunny everywhere. My readers who work in the news business will appreciate the analogy even more.

The number-one job of a good web designer/developer isn’t to make the customer happy. It’s not to do good work, or to be prescient about problems and put fixes in place.

It’s about making the Big Boss happy. It’s about keeping him (or her) in that big leather chair in that huge office with the hardwood floors and the expensive rugs and out of your work area. If the Big Boss doesn’t see a problem, there isn’t a problem.

The really crappy part, though, is that Big Bosses..? They’re only happy when it rains.

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don’t be surprised March 24, 2009

Posted by That Guy in A Stunning Example of Synergy, Pictures, Seen Elsewhere.
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Dilbert.com

This is becoming much less common with the epidemic of downsizing these days, but if you look hard enough, it’ll happen.

click here if you forgot your password February 9, 2009

Posted by That Guy in A Stunning Example of Synergy, Technology Trouble.
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Years and years ago, we were promised a paperless office. We were told that computers would be able to do everything we needed. We were told they would do it faster and better.

Well, at least computers can do everything we need, so long as we’re willing to program them that way. As for the faster and better part, that’s a long way off in some aspects. And we’ll never have a paperless office. People are too enamored of physical evidence of their work, physical signatures are always going to be required, and management for some reason doesn’t feel as though work is actually complete unless there’s a printed copy in the hands of management’s management.

Given how many different computer applications we’re forced to use, however, the least businesses could do is make things easier on us.

CC-licensed image by Flickr user Lana_aka_BADGRL

CC-licensed image by Flickr user Lana_aka_BADGRL

Some companies use as many as five different computer systems to just do basic corporate work. One for timekeeping, one that’s the actual application, one for security, one for e-mail, and one for record-keeping. And don’t forget the password just to log onto your office PC, the graphics department’s PC, the sales order system, and every password you’ve created for the consumer websites you need to use each day just to keep abreast of what’s going on in your industry.

Each account undoubtedly has different rules for usernames and passwords. Sometimes you have to use numbers and letters, sometimes you can use only one or the other; sometimes you have to change your password every 30 days, sometimes every 90; sometimes your username and password are locked by your company; sometimes you forget your passwords or get them confused with passwords for other applications. Most of the time, you get three shots to get your password right, and then you’re locked out until IT can get you back in.

No wonder we don’t have paperless offices: too many people are writing down all their passwords in a supposedly-safe location just to make sure they don’t forget them. After all, most people have to also remember a personal e-mail password along with usernames and passwords to all their online banking accounts and every website to which they belong. The same people who have long, involved passwords that are different for everything are often the people who aren’t too sanguine about using “save password” functions in their browsers.

From a programming standpoint, I don’t see how hard it could possibly be to set up a system where you log in through one portal (like a Cisco VPN) and have access to everything you need: timekeeping, record-keeping, bookkeeping, applications for business, e-mail maintenance, and so on. Why couldn’t you still keep everything on separate servers and just have one password to get in? Maybe you’d have to re-enter that password for each thing, but at least you’d only need to remember one. Corporate IT departments could require that it’s long and involved and has funny characters in it; it’s still only one password. At this point, I can’t count how many different systems the CorporateSpeak IT guys need to reset passwords for — often on a daily basis — without taking off my shoes.

We may never get to the ideal “paperless office”, but at least we can make it easier to log into our work computer systems. That’s an ideal we can aspire to. That’s an ideal we can achieve.

Can achieve. Knowing IT guys, probably won’t achieve, but it’d be nice.