What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The speed at which you can go from hero to zero and back again. They say no one remembers all the good stuff you did past that one time you do something bad. That’s probably true enough. Good and bad, in my experience, are simply matters of perception though… and the whiplash between one person declaring you a shithead and the other proclaiming your glory is probably something I will never get use to. It’s a good thing we don’t have objective and standard measures of performance against which all things can be judged.

2. People always notice the big things. Tell people they have to work a double shift and that eight hours is as noticeable as a sore thumb. Let that same eight hours slip away in increments of 15 minutes here and 45 minutes there and no one seems to notice much. I notice, of course. I notice because I value my time more highly than just about any other commodity. If I were to start randomly showing up between 15 and 45 minutes late with no notice or explanation, it’s a fair bet suddenly that incremental time would start being important to more people than just me… and I’m feeling just passive aggressive enough to see about putting my pet theory to the test.

3. Home maintenance. I bitch a lot about home ownership. With that said, I should note that I really do love the house I’m in. What’s grating on my nerves at the moment, though is the “systems maintenance” do loop I seem to be suck in at the moment. Water heaters, gutters, HVAC, sundry other appliances all need their fair share of attention – some more than others. As with every aspect of home ownership it always boils down to a simple matter of time and/or money. As both are in somewhat short supply at the moment, I hope I can be forgiven my slightly jaundiced view on the joy of home ownership at the moment.

No worse critic…

It has come to my attention that there may be a feeling that I have a tendency towards being too critical of people and things. I’m told “mistakes happen.” They surely do… except that what most people call mistakes I’ve found to usually be caused by failing to plan, not training hard enough, lack of attention to detail, or just generally being sloppy in the way you execute your day to day responsibilities. Negative consequences resulting from any of those things are not so much mistakes or random accidents as they are direct results of some general failure to adequately prepare or perform.

I don’t say that to cast dispersions upon anyone. Legitimate mistakes do happen from time to time. Random chance sees to that. I’m perfectly willing to admit it. If it seems, occasionally, that I’m overly sensitive to such things or that I’m living with unrealistic expectations of others, I can only ask you to rest assured that I also live with those standards for myself. I know instinctively that I will never have a worse critic than the one that lives inside my own head. I feel every honest mistake intensely – and every consequence of personal failing or inadequate preparation like a body blow.

In our daily endeavors it’s a fool’s errand to demand perfection. There’s simply no way to control for all possible inputs. Even knowing that, though, I’ll make no apologies for expecting good order and discipline to prevail. All I can promise you, and I swear this before the gods, is that I will never hold another to a standard higher than to that which I hold myself.

An open letter to the Enterprise Service Desk…

To Whom It May Concern,

On May 31st I called the Enterprise Service Desk to request support with an ongoing issue of frequent restarts, freezing, running checkdisk, and random problems within Office software products. This was a follow up to a previous call made on March 9th for a similar issue where I was told to call back if the problem happened again. A help ticket was opened as a result of my call on May 31st.

On June 7th, my ticket was closed because it had been “resolved.” No one from the Network Enterprise Center or local IT customer support contacted me on this issue. In addition to this being a missed 3-day response time under the terms of the service level agreement, it also has the dubious distinction of being blatantly false. My issue has not been resolved and my computer performance continues to exhibit the same behavior.

I once again contacted the Enterprise Service Desk on June 7th and was informed that the original ticket from May 31st could not be reopened. The representative I spoke to then opened a new help ticket and the clock started again on a new “3-day” response time. With a computer under warranty exhibiting these troubles, the “no brainer” response should be issuing a new machine and sending the broken/defective equipment back to the manufacturer. I consider this service absolutely unacceptable. I’m simply appalled that I’m now in the second week of trying to achieve more than a “phantom resolution” to my issue.

Regards,

Jeff

A fairly simple philosophy…

I have a fairly simple philosophy when it comes to whatever oddball projects hit my desk: Just get them done and move them off my desk as expeditiously as possible. Most projects don’t come with a lot of fanfare (and they come with even less recognition, especially when they’re going along without much trouble). The thing is when someone tells me they need me to do Task A, Task B, and Tasks F-N, I generally just focus in and get those knocked out as quickly as possible or in accordance with whatever overarching project timeline the Great Project Manager in the Sky set.

It seems so easy and straightforward, but in my experience as the nominal leader of various projects it’s anything but. On my very best days as a supervisor I had what can be described as a largely “hands off” philosophy. That is to say besides a periodic check on progress I’m perfectly happy to let members of the team go off and solve problems and get shit done in the way that most makes sense for them. The last thing I ever had any interest in being was the kind of boss who spent all his time skulking around looking over people’s shoulder. It wasn’t my style as a supervisor and it’s certainly not my style as a “coordinator.”

The downside, of course, of my particular style and workplace methodology is that it relies on other people doing what they were supposed to do both on time and to standard. That, friends, is almost always where your average project will start to fall off the rails. As it turns out there is a large and growing number of people who can’t do much of anything without close adult supervision. I can only speculate that they’re nice enough human beings, but getting things done just isn’t their particular forte. That’s where we have a decided clash in philosophies.

If you’re looking for the guy who is going to double and triple check everyone’s work, sooth their nerves, and pin their mittens to their coats before sending them out in the cold, I’m so not the one you want to put in charge of the effort. You’re going to be disappointed in the results. It’s not so much that I don’t care about reaching the desired outcomes as it is that I refuse to hand hold or spoon feed professionals who have been at their jobs as long or longer than I have. Do you job. Don’t do your job. I won’t worry and hand wring either way, but you can bet your sweet ass I’ll chunk you under the bus at the first available opportunity.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Atrophy. I’ll admit it, I’m not as good a driver as I use to be. I spent five years mastering the art of running nose-to-tail at 90 miles an hour on I-95 between DC and Baltimore. There’s not an every day call for that kind of driving in most other places. There wasn’t in West Tennessee and there certainly isn’t here in Ceciltucky. Every now and then, though, the situation presents itself where those long unused skills would prove useful. It’s only when you reach in to that old bag of tricks that you find out you’re not quite as quick at the wheel as you use to be. That’s disheartening… particularly when it leads to the inevitable question of whether it’s just a lack of practice time or if it’s a truly diminishing skill set.

2. Just Don’t Do It. Years ago I worked (indirectly) for a boss who’s philosophy was summed up by a Just Do It card that he passed around to employees at every opportunity. It read something like “If it’s ethical, legal, and you’re willing to be held accountable for it, don’t wait for permission, just do it.” It’s a pretty good rule to live by if you’re the kind of person who has any kind of reasonable judgement. I’m never going to argue that all decisions should be made at the lowest level, but I known damned well that all of them don’t need to be deferred to the highest levels, either. There’s a middle ground. More people should find it instead of deferring every decision for days and weeks in hopes that someone else will take responsibility for it.

3. The Cycle of Mediocrity. A wise old Warrant Officer once told me that “nobody does what the boss don’t check.” He was mostly right about that. In most offices the boss down’t check much – and the results are predictable. We all claim to want excellence – but in reality the objectives are usually targeted at achieving mediocrity. The rules are set up to achieve a minimum acceptable standard and performance tends towards achieving that standard. It’s what the bosses check so it’s what the people produce… and the cycle of mediocrity rolls on and on and on.

First impressions of iPhone 6…

A few of your have been (more or less) patiently waiting for my first impressions of iPhone 6. I don’t know if this morning’s post is going to exactly reward that patience, but it will at least give you a snapshot of what I’ve found after living with the new phone for the first 36 hours. Do bear in mind that these observations are in no way scientific, have not been approved by Apple, and reflect only my own thoughts.

Screen: I didn’t really think having an additional .7 inches of usable space on the screen would make much difference. I was wrong. The 4.7 screen feels like you’re dealing with acreage compare to the old 4-inch standard. Resolution is crystal clear and the depth of colors displayed exceeded my expectations.

Speed: As expected, speed is improved to have less lag between clicking an app and it opening. Switching between open apps is also largely improved. Performance overall feels snappier – as it should on a brand new device.

iOS 8: No surprises. The new operating system is essentially an incremental improvement from last year. Lots of goodness here that I still need to play with.

Battery: Solid performance under heavy use the last day and a half. It’s probably still going to need a pick-me-up charge towards late afternoon, but it’s miles ahead of needing to plug in at lunch time as I did with the old model under regular daily use. It’s very respectable performance considering it lasts longer while driving a more powerful processor and larger screen.

Camera: Appreciable improvement, especially in low light settings. There is considerably less lag between pushing the button and taking the picture. This is good when you have two dogs who aren’t particularly adept at sitting still for photos.

Form and Fit: Thinner is good. Though it is very slightly heavier than the 5S, it feels lighter in hand because that weight is spread out across a larger area. Build quality is solid, with nothing feeling loose or in danger of falling apart any time soon. The rounded edges are much more comfortable in hand than the hard edges of past models – and echoes back to the original rounded iPhone designs. It’s a very, very pretty phone, but it’s a slick little thing that has tried to jump out of my hand twice already. Dropping a “naked” phone is a concern, even though I’m not particularly accident prone with electronics. Some of that concern will probably be resolved by adding a case to give it a little more “grip-ability,” although sadly that will also hide a really well designed phone.

Overall: If you’re an Apple fan, it’s obviously a winner. Android fans? Eh, I won’t even speculate on what you may think. For me, it’s slightly too large to use in one handed operation for many tasks. I think iPhone has really hit a sweet spot somewhere between too small and phablet – and I know some 6+ fans out there are going to disagree with that assessment. The iPhone 6 does everything I’ve asked of it and is loaded with capabilities I haven’t begun to use. I fear we have reached a point where the phones are finally outstripping my ability to keep up and use them to their maximum ability.

Not surprisingly, my assessment is that this is the best phone Apple has ever offered. If you’re looking to upgrade, I don’t think you’ll find any disappointment here.

The wrong metric…

It occurs to me that when it comes to the amount of time we spend at work that it could all come down to tracking the wrong metric. Since early in the 20th century the “standard” has been the 8 hour day and the 40 hour week. That’s well and good I suppose if you’re churning out Model T Fords by the million on an assembly line. In that kind of work there’s no allowance for people working at varying speeds. Most of the people I know these days aren’t working on a 1920s assembly line, though.

Instead of manning the line at the Rouge River Complex, we’re all sitting at our keyboards banging out emails and memos and slides. If I happen to be super efficient and complete my assigned memos and slides in six hours, I’m still at my desk for two hours regardless of whether I’m doing anything constructive or staring blankly at the ceiling. The reverse is true as well. If I’m an utter slacker and can’t get all my emails sent in eight hours, there’s no force compelling me to stick around until they’re done. As far as my unscientific observation of the eight hour day and 40-hour week is concerned, I can only conclude that we’re basing our business model on precisely the wrong metrics. We’re managing to time rather than managing to outcomes.

If I, gods forbid, were a boss, why would I care if someone got their assigned work done to standard in six hours? Maybe in theory I could then assign them 20% more work, but in my experience that almost never happens. If your mission in life is to get X done every day, once X is done, I say go home. Go to the park, the bar, the ball game. The threat of having to do X+20% doesn’t do anything more than make the typical drone slow their roll to make sure they don’t pull too far ahead of the pack. Sure there are a few over achievers out there who throw off the curve, but when I look around they’re the exception rather than the rule.

So there it is – the thesis I should have written for my MBA. A Savage Act of Defiance Against the 8-Hour Work Day: Managing Performance Instead of Time. It feels a little like there’s a “philosophy of management” book in there somewhere… which means I should mention that the thoughts herein expressed are the sole property of the author and protected under the copyright laws of the United States. All rights reserved.