Saturday, April 01, 2006

All You Need Is Love… Sort of (Part #3). . .

The deal was struck, arrangements made, and I was finished with the Nashville project. I remember thinking, as I was driving out of Nashville for the last time, that maybe, I should have taken the job they offered me. That this nomadic life, wasn’t exactly what it was cracked up to be, and ‘settling in’, might not have been such a bad thing.

That thought lasted about 45 seconds… then I started thinking about the money I’d be making on the next project… and started thinking about ways I could work in North Carolina some, and possibly work from my office in Syracuse some. I thought I had a pretty good plan too… I was charged up.

I got home, for a three week R&R between projects and was looking forward to spending some needed time with my wife, relaxing, as well as wrapping up some of the Kona project extensions with Greg.

I think I did everything but, relax.

When it came time to head to Burlington, I really didn’t want to go. I’d just started to feel like I’d was actually ‘decompressing’, and well, it had felt nice to feel ‘at home’ with my wife again. Regardless, I packed up, and headed South once again.

The situation at WEL had deteriorated considerably since I’d first written up the project scope. First, the existing consultant had decided she did not want to work with anyone else, and was bailing. Interestingly enough, for a company who made a living with contractual documents, they had no provision in their agreement with her for ownership of a copy of the source code. So, in order to salvage their already large investment, they bought a copy from her, while, at the same time absolving her from any liability as to its suitability for their use.

(Life Lesson #1: When someone has been writing software for you, hasn’t delivered anything, and then when they want to sell you what you’ve already paid for, they also want exemption from its lack of usability… it’s probably not worth paying for!)

They signed, paid, and got all the code. Me, I should have jumped off the ship when I saw it. In short, 90% of what was there, was from a product called “Tom Rettig’s Office”. It was one of the first ‘frameworks’ for FoxPro, and in and of itself, was a fairly decent product. Unfortunately, it was designed to wrap around general office tasks, NOT automate the insurance policy life cycle.

There were several screens, that had been added, that were specific to the company’s business, but, as I went through them, one by one, with that same DP committee and the company president, they vetoed each page.

In the end, it was all scrapped, and the project was starting fresh.

The company president though… was having no part of a system study on my part… I remember him telling me they’d already paid her for that.. and were not paying for one again.

(Life Lesson #2: When your customer, starts telling you how to do your job, you need to fire that customer, and hire yourself out to another one!)

We argued for a while about that, and eventually I caved and agreed to let him assign someone to work with me on the design, flow and data requirements as we went. For those of you who don’t know, this is absolutely the worst possible method for developing any application. It’s like building a house without a blueprint. If there’s only one person involved, and it’s a fairly simple house, it’ll get done, but add more people, or ay complexity… well, in short, you’re asking for multiple failure points.

Full of confidence, and a history of ‘getting it done’, regardless, I pressed on.

In all fairness, the two people who'd been assigned as my primary contacts, were very expert in their respective roles, and the project would have been impossible without their knowledge and help.

The next few months, were then, and remained for over a decade, my most productive coding time, ever. There were several factors that made that true. First, and definitely foremost, was the fact that no one, and I mean no one, interrupted me. I could sit in my cubicle and just code for 10, sometimes 12 hours straight. I can still recall the feeling I had as the components I’d built over a several day period would just slide into place and work together.

I remember thinking that the feeling had to be like the one a fine ‘craftsman’ would get when after several days of working on ‘pieces’ he would actually assemble the entire piece of furniture… It was going well, or so I thought.

We had a dinner meeting with an Insurance company from South Carolina, and I happened to be sitting next to the President during the meal. I asked him if he was satisfied with the progress I was making (keep in mind I’d built a functional insurance quoting system in about 65 days, and the previous consultant had worked on the same thing for 18 months!)…

His response to me was “Hell no, the project was two years late when you started it, if you’d finished it the day you started, it would still have been 2 years late!”

(Life lesson #3: If your client has unreasonable expectations, they need to be corrected, or there will be trouble in your future.)

So there I was, not exactly in a venue to debate this with him, but cut to the quick all the same. I remember thinking in my apartment that evening, I should just finish up the next few weeks and let them finish it all, however, whenever.

When I thought the worst thing that could be said, to, or about my work, or presence, on this project had already been said… about a week later, when they handed out the Christmas bonus checks, the owners actually apologized to the employees, saying, that if they hadn’t had to pay *my bills, the bonuses would have been larger.

(Last life lesson here… “A lack of planning or project management on your part, and the resultant costs, are not my problem!”)

I prepared to head home for the holidays, thinking the project was done, and in all honesty, despite not having another gig lined up fully (my partner had taken over the Naples gig)… I was glad to be done there. On one hand anyway… on the other, I’d never left a project unfinished in my life… and I hated that all the work I’d done, might never get finished, if I didn’t finish it!

It was good to think about getting home, but shortly before I left, Metro called and informed me the client wanted to extend my contract. I called the apartment complex, but they had already promised my place to someone else. I headed home for the holidays, having not committed to a return trip.

I just didn't know what I wanted to do. The project had been grossly misrepresented, in every respect, there was no appreciation for my efforts, and instead of having a team, up until this point, I'd been working alone. A complete 180 from the NDC environment I'd found so enjoyable... but, and there's always a 'but'... there was the money, and the check was there every two weeks like clock-work. It sure did feel good to be earning, and earning well!

Maybe that was the trade off.. maybe, I had to give up on some of the things I liked, to earn what I wanted to earn? Was that the opportunity cost?

Maybe a place like NDC was just a fluke, a fantasy… after all, they were having real problems according to the folks I’d talked with since I’d left.

There was a lot to consider over the holidays!

(Part #4 – tomorrow!)

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Dizzy Ms. Lizzy said...

On . . . the edge . . . of my seat - -

Suspense . . . it's killing me . . . . :-P

Bill said...

Liz - I wish I had the time to write up 'all' that transpired... as it is I hope I'm hitting the better highlights!

Thanks for letting me know it's still interesting.

Comfort Addict said...

Jeez, Bill. That sounds a lot like my current project. Misery really does love company.

Bill said...

CA - That's one f the reasons I wrote it up... I thought for a long time it was a unique situation, but, over time I've discovered it's more common than unique.

Hopefully you can learn something from my mistakes!