I’m like the Queen…

As I’ve said countless times before, I’m not a decision maker.

I can present information. I can counsel. I can advise. In more dire moments I can even warn.

What I am not empowered by policy, regulation, or law to do, however, is make any actual decisions.

After almost 18 years in harness, I feel strongly the right and a duty to express my views on matters of interest. I’ve reached the period of my working life where there’s not much particularly new under the sun. I may not have seen it all before, but laying eyes on a truly unique situation is becoming an increasingly rare event.

Someday, perhaps, there will be those on Olympus who look down upon my pleas and decide that fiddling about for four months before paying any attention may not be the best idea. It turns out, as usual, that today isn’t that day.

Anyway, it turns out I’m almost exactly like the Queen. I can tell the great and the good that they’re about to do something dumb, but there’s not a thing in this great wide world I can really do to stop it happening.

Good intentions, bad decisions…

There are a handful of things that I can do at the office that I physically can’t do from home. They have more to do with obnoxious and largely outdated security procedures than they do with a lack of personal ability, though.

What I think we proved today was that with the exception of those handful of things that I’m prohibited from doing at home by law, policy, or regulation, everything else can run more or less seamlessly using our electronic mailboxes, a series of various interconnected world-wide web sites, and a portable cellular telephone. It’s far from perfect and not likely something that you’d want to do for more than a day or two at a time, but as a stopgap, it works well enough – or at least better than the alternative which would have been 100% of the work not getting done. If nothing else, it gives you an option to “keep the lights on” under circumstances where they otherwise would go dark.

Now, do I think this will be the bright shining moment where the bosses realize having people willing and able to work from home is more than having a bunch of personnel sitting around with their thumb up their asses? No. No I do not. Maybe they should, but I can’t imagine a scenario where that’s actually going to happen.

What’s far more likely is they’ll race hard in the other direction – specifying new minimum staffing levels, limiting the number of people who can be on leave at any given time, and focusing on the 5% that can’t be done instead of the 95% that can. I’d like to think I’m wrong about this, but history tells me I’m probably not. My entire career has been nothing if not a series of opportunities to observe moments where good intentions gave helpful cover to bad decisions. Getting the powers that be to thinking about productive work happening outside the walls of their adjacent cubicles feels like an awfully long way to stretch given the precedents involved.

If that’s not what happens here, you’ll find me a few months from now both stunned and amazed… and it would be one of those rare occasions where I wouldn’t mind being caught off guard in the least.

See you Monday…

It’s the day before Thanksgiving. Yes, it’s technically a work day. Yes, I am technically working. You see, though, the thing is that no one actually expects they’ll need to do any heavy lifting on a day like this. Maybe that should be almost no one has those kind of expectations

There’s always that one guy. He usually lives well up on Olympus and is the one person in all the land who thinks somehow we’re going to move something forward with less than 50% staffing and way less than 50% interest.

Look, I’m not saying that’s the way it should be. In a perfect world I’m sure we should all be 100% committed for every one of our 8 hours on every single day. We don’t live in a perfect world, though. On a good day, we probably live in a world that could best be described as “tolerable.”

I’ll do what I can with the time and people that are available, but honestly, if you’re looking for something to happen after about 2:00… well, I guess I’ll see you Monday.

The black hole of the bureaucracy…

Any big bureaucratic organization worth its salt has a process covering just about everything you might need to accomplish during your regularly scheduled work period. If you’re lucky, some of those processes might even actually work despite inevitably being antiquated, creaking relics left over from the Eisenhower Administration.

More often, in my experience, the process that exists simply stops working at a certain point. Somewhere along the workflow there’s either a person or an individual who is the organizational equivalent of a super-massive black hole. Everything that crosses into the jurisdiction of this office or individual passes across some kind of bureaucratic event horizon from which not even light itself has the velocity to escape.

These places are, in the simplest terms possible, where projects, paperwork, and hope go to be extinguished. These are the places where the process, no matter how well intentioned or neatly diagramed, simply break down and prevent actual work from happening. They’re the very core essence of what it is to live and work in the bureaucracy.

If a staff officer is worth a damn, he’ll find ways to work around these dangerous sectors – identifying people who will play ball and allow him to navigate around the gravitational pull of broken processes. Eventually, though, the bureaucracy catches on to the fact that it’s being subverted. It lashes out with renewed fury to suck in all the paperwork that has heretofore managed to escape its grasping maw.

With no way around and faced with failing timelines if work is pushed through the process to its illogical conclusion, sometimes all even a seasoned bureaucrat can do is shrug, accept that nothing will ever be completed in a timely manner, and prepare for the inevitable, quasar-like explosion once the black hole has consumed more work product than it could possibly hope to process.

Look, I’m paid for the same eight hours whether shit gets done or not, so if you’d prefer the “or not” option, just let me know up front so I’ll know how much effort to apply to any given issue. That could have saved us all a whole bunch of time. In the meantime, if anyone needs me, I’ll be over here heaving products over the event horizon expecting to never see them again.

Telework Wednesday, interrupted…

It was a good day at Fortress Jeff. It was a scheduled Telework Wednesday. I’d made eggs and toast for breakfast. My laptop was sitting patiently booting up in the sun room in preparation for the day. All the critters had been fed and I thought they were all accounted for… except, of course, they weren’t.

Somewhere between slathering butter on my toast and setting the dirty dishes in the sink, Jorah snuck off and a ranging loop through the house. It’s become a common enough sight now that he’s a more or less trusted agent.

That’s the point where the morning started its trip off the rails.

Unbeknownst to me, Jorah made a stop in the sunroom and took the opportunity to bite my work laptop’s power cord almost directly in half… a situation I didn’t stumble upon until I walked into the room with my coffee and more or less prepared to started the day.

Dogs chew. It’s a natural fact. The issue here is that for the 7+ months he’s been here, Jorah was remarkable good at leaving everything alone that wasn’t one of his toys. He didn’t chew chair legs, or moulding, or shoes. He never showed so much as a moment’s interst in any of the exposed cables that are strung everywhere around the house. He ignored them completely, right up to the point today where he didn’t.

So instead of starting off Telework Wednesday with a nice easy read through the overnight email and a bit of mouth scalding coffee, I took off my fuzzy slippers, put on a semi-clean pair of jeans, and then made the round trip drive to the office to pick up a spare power cord that I had stashed in my desk.

So this week my day working from home started off with the same old drive to the office… only slightly later in the morning so I was able to enjoy even more traffic than usual. If you think I’m not going to find half a dozen castoff Dell power cables to create my own strategic reserve against future incidents of cable gnawing, well, it’s like you don’t know me at all.

Confessional…

This blog has become something of my own personal confessional. There’s no privacy of course and there are plenty of thoughts I’d never dare put in writing, but it’s definitely got the catharsis of spilling your problems out to a benevolent and receptive audience.

The challenge though is it’s on the days you most need to write, you find the list stocked with things you just can’t say for general consumption.

So you file it away, wondering if maybe it will see the light of day again someday. You go fix a whisky drink and turn your full attention to anything that isn’t what made you want the drink so much in the first place.

The days like that are the exception rather than the rule, but sometimes they do stack up like cordwood. Especially when you realize it’s only bleeding Wednesday.

The turd in my lap…

Look, no one is more aware that a lot of the things landing on my desk aren’t big, shiny, attention grabbing projects than I am. Some people might even be inclined to say I’ve made a career of taking these decidedly unsexy projects in my teeth and bulldoging them through to the end. Most of the time they’re something that needs doing and I’m more than capable of being the one to get them there without needing too much adult supervision enroute from Point A to Point B. Part of the charm of these “ugly” projects is how little attention or supervision they attract.

There are going to be times – maybe 30 or 60 minutes out of three months – when having a little overwatch would be beneficial. Show the flag. Give the illusion that there’s a renewed sense of interest. You know, basically do a bit of lip service to the idea that it’s something worth spending time on and that someone outside the immediate group is actually paying attention.

If it’s legitimately something that the bosses can’t be bothered to take even a passing interest in, I’m going to wonder why for the love of all things good and holy we’re spending inordinate amounts of time fiddling around with it at all. Fortunately, I long ago gave up tying personal pride or self worth to this sort of work, but it’s awfully hard for me not to notice professional disinterest when I see it. If I can spot it while trying hard not to, you can bet everyone else sitting around the table picked up on it… and that’s going to make them even harder to convince to come to the table next time some turd of a project comes down the pipe.