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 They have more to do with obnoxious and largely outdated security procedures than they do with a lack of personal ability, though.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.

Sausage…

If you love sausage, it’s probably a good idea to not spend much time dwelling on how it’s made. Assholes, lips, and nostrils it may be, but somehow they work well together when conjured with the right mix of spices and applied heat.

It occurs to me that most things in the office are kind of like sausage. The end result usually turns out well enough, but taking a deeper look at how the gears are meshing behind the curtain is rarely a good idea. As I mostly just want good tasting sausage likewise I just want my automated work processes to be actually automated. If you have to spend hours talking about how many times an actual human person has to touch an allegedly automated procedure, chances are it’s not quite as automated as you think it is.

I don’t even to think that the money we pour out each year to build these magical systems that need dozens of people to manually intervene in order to give the illusion of automation. Seems better to just admit that automation is hard, expensive, and we just aren’t very good at it. Give me a routing slip, a clipboard, and an hour of walking around time and it seems like I could get the same results at a fraction of the cost as the high maintenance process designed and maintained by a small army of software engineers.

If you’re going open up the kitchen and let the world see how you’re making the sausage, don’t be surprised if more than a couple of them lose interest no matter how good you promise it’s going to taste once it’s cooked.

What Jeff Likes this Week

It’s harder than you might thing to pinpoint what I like this week. I’m going to attribute that to the fact that the last seven days were brutal even in the face of my already pessimistic expectations. It’s tempting to say that the only thing I really like about the past week is the fact that it’s now over. That would be the easy answer. It would also have the benefit of being a statement of fact. It’s a happy coincidence when those two fall into line together.

Although it would be the easy and truthful answer, there’s something slightly more tangible that should come at the top of this week’s list – the fact that this past Monday saw the total number of people working in my office increase by 66%. That’s an impressive figure at first blush, though it loses some of its luster when you realize that even with those additional hands we’re still only staffed at 56% of the total number of people we had when I started working there.

Still, I’m glad to see two more bodies available to throw into the fight. It buys a little more breathing room. It means there might be a chance to actually be a little thoughtful and do a little analysis before recommending a course of action. It means there’s the ghost of a chance of doing more than hoping for the best from week after week of responding to situations with little more than knee jerk reactions.

So, if anyone asks, what Jeff likes this week is the simple fact that two people showed up. Now of course how long they stick around is another matter entirely. I’m happy enough leaving that for a different post at a different time.

Note: This is the 1st in a six-part series appearing on jeffreytharp.com by request.

Correct and factual…

The problem with dealing with numbers is that generally there is a single correct answer. If I were to ask how many jelly beans are in a jar or how many cars are in the parking lot, someone could use their fingers and toes and physically calculate the answer. Counting other things, like people or laptops can be done in exactly the same way. All it takes is someone to physically conduct the count rather than give an answer that includes the words “about,” “no more than,” or “somewhere between.” The only thing answers that include those words tells me is whoever was responsible for the counting is pretty much a dipshit who can’t be bothered by pesky things like facts.

We live in resource constrained times, I get it. We’re all coming to grips with what it means to do less with less. Still, though, when the correct answer is somewhere between 1 and 75, I don’t think it’s too much trouble to lock in on the single factual number of widgets in the box. Then again, maybe I just have unrealistic expectations of people not being complete douchenozels. Since my perception is the only thing in this situation that I control, I have no choice but to adjust my expectations accordingly.

Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.

Prep time…

We’ve been over this 20 slide PowerPoint presentation four times now. The last “dry run” – which lasted just shy of three hours – cost about $3500 when you account for the labor cost and overhead of the nine people who were stuck in the room listening to the Uberboss dither about changing “happy” to “glad” and deciding that he didn’t like sentences that he personally added to the charts three days ago. The lunatics are plainly in charge of our asylum.

Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.