Red Flags Ahead

Some of you may not know that I’m a big data geek.   Well, I am.  Data, data, data.  To borrow from an ad that I hear in the shower every morning (WCBS-FM), I like data.  D is for Data.  A, All about data.  T, Talkin’ about data.  A…As I said before, let’s look at the data.

The only thing I find hard about data is when people pronounce it with a short “a” as in “hat” instead of the way it should be, which is how Jean Luc Picard says it.

No, not that kind of data.

Data is easy; people are hard. People working in large corporations are even harder.   The dysfunctional nature of the large corporation is legendary.  It’s been said that corporations are more like psychopaths than like you (assuming you are not a psychopath).

Maybe you’ve never worked in a corporation in your life – you’re an artist, a teacher, a student.  Possibly you’re a mechanic, a hair stylist, a farmer, or a nurse.  You may harbor a touching belief that corporations contain mindless drones all marching to the same tune in order to make tons of money for that one rich guy in the big chair on top of the tower. 

Are the minions still making marching in the same direction? I can’t see them from my chair.

Unfortunately for that guy, most people have their own agenda, and that agenda involves self preservation.  If the unspoken goal of everyone you meet on a project is to get through the day, or to hang on long enough to retire, then you’re in a normal situation.  However, if you find that the backstabbing, the political battles, the passive aggression or the active aggression are bubbling up to the surface on an almost hourly schedule, you may be working on a Death March. 

I’ve been on a few of these.  If I start to think I may be working on a Death March, it’s time to update my LinkedIn profile and head for the hills.  Yeah, I know plenty of business advice gurus will tell you to stay put and tough it out.  That’s because business advice gurus are not – and this is important – actually working in a corporate environment.  They’re writers.  Also, they are not working in YOUR best interest, because you’re not paying their salary. 

Here are some of the red flags of a Death March.  Take note and update your LinkedIn profile before you need to.

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When YOU don’t do your job, that’s MY fault. 

For example:  when I ask a question, my basic assumption is that the ball is now in your court.  I expect that you’ll lob it back to me with an answer, or at the very least you’ll punt down the road to some other hapless drone.  If I never hear from you again, I assume that’s your problem and not mine.  But what’s this? It turns out that part of my job is reminding YOU to do your job.  And if I don’t?  Somehow, that becomes my problem, not yours. 

Too many “Baby Shark” meetings

I hate meetings.  Everyone says they hate meetings, but I think they are lying.  There are some folks who just thrive on corporate meetings.  I’ve heard tell of smart managers who give “no chairs allowed” meetings so people can’t get comfy and bloviate for 20 minutes.  This works even for people who aren’t in the tech sector. 

We can’t wait to see slide 46!

I don’t get invited to those meetings.  I get invited to meetings where I must inject my system with a constant stream of caffeine and surreptitious checks of my smart phone so as not to fall into a coma.  Those are the “baby shark” meetings.  My brain, bereft of actual meaningful input,  begins to react rather as it would in a sensory deprivation chamber.  It starts to review a list of “ear worms” in order to avoid a total system shutdown. 

Here’s how I experience the “baby shark” phenomenon. “As you can see in slide 45, the status of the LGD improvement project is ** BABY SHARK doo doo doo doo doo doo BABY SHARK ** so by Q3 the FRB review is expected to ** MOMMY SHARK doo doo doo doo doo doo MOMMY SHARK” 

It goes downhill in my brain from there.

Stealth Email Forwarding 

Yeah, I know everyone is trying to cover their ass.  I expect that.  What I don’t expect is that every question I ask invokes a primal flight-or-fight response, and every honest answer I give is treated like a landmine.  At some point during the corporate death march, everyone’s job description changes from “valued worker helping to propel the starship forward” to “keeping my head below the top of the foxhole”.    No one will make a decision or even answer a question, because someone will shoot them in the butt for doing it. 

I heard there’s a long email thread over that hill….

That’s when the stealth emails start.  People you never even heard of start replying to your emails, usually by throwing out a number of reasons why doing anything useful is forbidden.  Before you know it, 20 people are on a huge email thread and all you wanted was someone to reset your password.

Are you Managing a Project or a Deck? 

I love project managers.  The best of them sail in, start banging heads together and taking names, and before you know it things are moving along.  The gears are oiled, the happy hum of productivity is heard throughout the land. 

Before the death march.

Unfortunately, sometimes a project is so screwed up that manager after manager is brought in to fix things.  This is counterproductive.  Each manager goes from enthusiastically managing a project to jadedly managing a status report.  I see them coming to my desk … or trying to, because if I see them first, I’m out of my chair, through the ladies’ room and up to the pantry on the 5th floor for a coffee and a review of the lyrics of “Baby Shark”. 

I know they want to ask me “what’s the status on Jira 4501?”  Now, I happen to know that the status on Jira 4501 is that nothing good will ever happen on Jira 4501.  I also know that if you gave me 2 minutes alone with the Sysadmin and a bag of chocolate chip cookies, we could solve Jira 4501 in 10 keystrokes.  But since you’re managing a deck and not a project, I’ll just say “status has not changed” and you can mark that up for the monthly meeting.

After the death march.

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