Sunday, March 26, 2006

All You Need Is Love… Sort of. . .(Part#1)

Ok, so there I was in the end stages of my project at NDC, having turned down a permanent position and trying to set up a ‘Winter gig’ somewhere South of the Mason-Dixon. You see I’d decided I wanted to move to a warmer area, and that definitely meant moving South.

I had a tentative project with the folks in Naples, and honestly, that was looking very promising. Winter in Florida, work maybe 30 hours a week, make an additional $10/hour over the Nashville gig.. Yep, Naples was looking like the deal for me.

Then Bill Patton called me. He was the manager of the Greensboro, NC office of Metro Information Services, the folks I was working through in Nashville (by the way their office and the job were all actually in “Brentwood” which is a suburb of Nashville).

Seems Bill had a client, in Burlington, NC who was in trouble with a project and the word with the Metro folks was that if it was FoxPro, I was the guy. He wanted me to hop on a plane, fly to Greensboro and look the job over.

We talked about the situation some and it turned out this was an insurance oriented operation, family owned and Metro was trying to ‘help the client out’. All three of those things were instant ‘red flags’ for me!

I’d found over the past decade that there are several things that should warn you ‘off’ a potential client. Among the list were these three. I know, you’re wondering ‘why’, I considered these particular three, red flags.

First, Insurance companies, I’d signed on with several as clients over the years and the one thing they all had in common was they didn’t really know, how they did what they did. They’d use phrases like “We always do it like this”, or, “We never, ever, do that” when I’d ask about the rules surrounding the project. Later, after development was underway I’d find what they really meant was:
  • “We always do it like this, except when we don’t”
or, the even more popular
  • “We never, ever, do that, except when we have to.”
For those of you not in software development, telling a designer that something is not even a possibility is pretty much the same as telling the architect designing your home you never, ever, have use for a bathroom. Then, once the plans are approved and construction has begun during the first walk through asking where the bathroom is. When informed you specifically said you had no need for one, replying, well, “I only use one, when I need to”.

Second, family owned, I’ve chronicled my experiences there over the past several weeks. While not a major flag, it remained a flag.

Third, “help the client out”… this is probably the biggest flag of all, a virtual show stopper for me. It means several things to me when I hear it.
  • The current project is not being, and has not been, properly managed.
  • Whoever laid out the project must have left out some key components.
  • There’s no one, internal to the company who understands the development process.
  • No one internal to the company has a vested, (as in it’s their job) interest in the project.
  • There’s a money issue, either the costs were under estimated, or the company over estimated their ability to fund the project.
There are more, but I think you’re getting the drift, a lot of bad things potentially going on, and little or no ‘company’ oversight of the process.

Signing on the ‘help out’ is tantamount to becoming their ‘white knight’ and fraught with all the pitfalls that entails. I’ve participated in plenty of ‘crisis management’, ‘project intervention’ and ‘project recovery’ contracts, none were fun, all were far more work than the money could compensate for, and in every single case, when the ‘miracle had been pulled off, the client was still complaining about the time, the effort, the money or all three. In short a classic ‘no win’ situation for a developer, especially a contract developer.

I tried to beg off the ‘look over’ but, Metro made it pretty attractive, 20 hours billable for the weekend, I fly in Friday night, fly back on Sunday, all expenses paid… I was looking at sitting in my (tiny) apartment, staring at 4 walls and earning nothing, or, doing this little favor for Metro and making some fast cash… I went for the cash.

I know, with everything I said about red flags, I still went for the cash. However, before I agreed, I also made it very clear to Bill that I could not possibly “do” the job, I was only available to look at the situation and provide my best guess at what it would take to get the project back on track, and completed.

I remember Bill and I talking for some time about this project. How important it was to Metro to help the client out, how they needed a guy like me in the Greensboro office, how he was sure I’d like North Carolina even more than I’d liked Tennessee…. He was giving me the full package sales approach… appealing to every need he perceived I had, but I remained committed to the Naples gig (even though it wasn’t a fully done deal).

A week later I hopped a commuter flight, an “American Eagle” turbo prop as I recall, from Nashville, to Greensboro. It was, without a doubt the single worst flight I’ve ever been on…. And, for a guy who dislikes flying, on the best of days, that’s saying something!

There was a major storm moving from Tennessee, over the Appalachian Mountains and into North Carolina… of course, we had to fly right through it… Turbulence barely describes that flight… stuff was falling from the overhead… lightning was all around us… the only highlight was that the stewardess picked the seat next to me to ride the storm out in, and talked to me for nearly the entire flight… that, at least, kept my mind occupied.

Once I got to the airport, the rental car that was supposed to be waiting, wasn’t. After checking all the agencies and calling Bill (at like midnight), I found that they’d forgotten about it… fortunately, I was able to rent one.

As I was wrapping up the transaction, I asked the attendant what the best way to get to Burlington, from the airport was. Her answer was to follow the signs for I-85 North.

I know I must have looked confused when I asked, “But, isn’t Burlington due East of here?”

She responded, in a very matter of fact manner, “Yep”.

With that I headed out to find my car, and drive north, to go due east. Oh, and remember that storm I mentioned we flew through? Well it had arrived. It was raining, and I mean raining, a real downpour. I found I-85, and the Eastbound on ramp, and proceeded to head (I hoped) to Burlington, where I’d been assured the hotel reservation had indeed been made.

All but about 2 miles of I-85 between Greensboro and Burlington was under construction, no shoulders, “K” barriers were the ‘out of bounds’ markers and there was the rain, total darkness and the traffic was incredible (to me) at this late hour… eventually though, I did make it to Burlington, found the Hampton Inn, where there was, in fact a reservation, and got checked in.

As the desk clerk and I were wrapping things up she said: “Oh, there’s a message for you!” and handed me an envelope. In it was the name, and phone number of the man I was supposed to meet with the following day, John Love, and his home phone number. Also in the note it asked for me to call him when I got in, regardless of the time.

It was close to 1:00am, and I seriously considered not calling until morning, but, after all he did ask and he was paying the bill!! So, I called, he was asleep, but once I established who I was, we made arrangements to meet at 8:00am the following morning for breakfast, before meeting with his “Data processing Committee” later in the morning.

With that, we hung up, and I crashed for the evening, still wondering what tomorrow would bring.

Next, in part two of “All you need is Love”, I’ll tell you about our meetings and what happened after I returned to Nashville.

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14 comments:

Nina said...

I hate flights like that, when you are in a smaller plane. I think when we look back we realize that life took us where we needed to be . . .

Bill said...

Nina - As I'm sure you know by now... I completely agree. I'm a firm believer that if we let it, life will indeed take us where we need to go, even if, at the time, we don't understand we need to be there.

Dizzy Ms. Lizzy said...

Bill,

I also hate flying - - even on GOOD days - - I would have been a TOTAL basket case if I had been on that flight! *shudder*

Bill said...

Liz - I never said *I* wasn't! I just kept telling myself that I was staying calm until the flight attendant started to look worried!

Beth said...

I'm cool with the whole flying thing. I'll reserve further words until the story officially ends.

Bill said...

Beth - 'Ends'?? There's actually no official end to this story... it continues daily... the way I see it, I'll be dead when the story (well this one anyway) officially ends :)

I wonder if there are blogs in the afterlife? If so, do folks blog about their past lives?

Kim said...

oh, I'm sitting here aggravated FOR you! Sounds like dental surgery...

Bill said...

Kim - You know, I hadn't thought of it that way... but you're right... Makes the events that followed all the more surprizing to me as I look back!

Firehawk said...

Bill,

Sorry I haven't commented more, but you got ahead of me, and I was distracted with various projects this weekend, and didn't do much 'netting.

You still have me waiting for each new segment, bro. Keep 'em coming.

I've been lucky, and never really had that much trouble with turbulence on the flights I've taken. The occasional "whoa" moment, but nothing really nasty. I just hate the craped seating position. They're not built for guys with 50+ inch chest measurements.

Firehawk said...

**cramped**

Bill said...

FireHawk - Most of my flights have been far smoother as well... reminded me of the old Allegany Airlines (Agony Air) as most of their flights took them over the Allegany Mtns..and a ton of turbulance... Mountains + storms + puddle jumper = rough ride!!

I agree completely about the seats... I haven't broke the 50".. but about 48/49.. and ay 6'2" there's no leg room either!

Jay said...

I love the "sort of" inyour title.

You have learned more life lessons than I can even count.

Bill said...

Jay - I've certainly 'experienced' a lot of life lessons... how well I've learned them, well, that remains to be seen!!

Comfort Addict said...

Bill,

Big companies (like the auto company that I work for) are also great about not knowing why they do what they do, telling you they'll never need something and omitting key requirements until a project is well underway (a.k.a. coming late to the party and wanting to choose the hors d'ouevres).

I can't wait to read the other parts of your story.