Sunday, April 02, 2006

Money Wins out in the End (Part#4). . .

Yep, that’s what happened, over the holidays, several phone calls, long discussions and much internal struggle, in the end, it boiled down to cold hard cash. I caved and agreed to return to the project.

The folks at Metro where telling me to stop acting like a ‘Prima-Donna’… the wife was saying we really could use the money, but to do what I needed to, and the client was appealing to my sense of professional pride.

I caved, I could go on and on about how I saw it as a professional challenge, but plain and simple, it was the cash… the money, and, that the harder I tried to walk away, the harder they pressed to get me to return. One of my downfalls has always been my wanting to feel needed.

(Life Lesson #1… When you’re negotiating, you have to be willing to walk away. If you’re willing to walk away, in most cases, they won’t let you!)

So, I made a return trip or two in January, the client paid my expenses (as they had in the beginning) until I could secure a suitable place to live, and worked most of January, and February from my home in Syracuse. In the process of those two months I regained my initial enthusiasm for the project, the work, and was again making huge progress.

During one of the trips to Burlington, after I’d gassed up my car for a return to Syracuse, and was paying for the gas (this was way before pay-at-the-pump became popular) there was a woman in the store who’d noticed my out of state tags and asked “Just passing through?”. I began to explain how I was leaving, but coming back, and had to find a place to stay in the area as soon as possible. She proceeded to give me the name and number of a local guy (Kent Conklin) in the rental management business who had helped her find an apartment. When I got home, I called him. He not only had a place, it was fully furnished, in my budget and available. It turned out it was an apartment, in his home. He rented to me, sight unseen, no deposit, just the check for the 1st months rent. Over the following months he and I became friends and remained so until he died a couple of years ago, in fact he helped me find the house I now own!

So by March, I was ‘relocated’ once again, and heavy into the project.

The ‘small policy’ section was complete through policy number issuance, and they’d pressed the one developer they had into service for building the Large policy piece. The small policies were actually more complex as they contained far more detailed. In fact, if that system study had been properly carried out at the front end, the segmentation would have been more properly defined as scheduled or non-scheduled. The true difference between the two types is that one lists all the equipment being insured, and the pricing is based on the listed equipment. The non-scheduled policy is based on other factors, like mileage driven, or revenue generated, and provides blanket coverage for all equipment.

In short it was a fundamental design flaw that would haunt the application for years to come.

As we progressed though the remainder of the year the front end of the policy life cycle was coded, tested and deployed, but not without additional drama.

During one of my trips back to Syracuse, the president wrote a fairly scathing letter to Metro, claiming the cost ‘overrun’ was due to my inability to either, deliver as promised, or scope the project initially.

One thing I’ve always been good at is documenting, especially my work. I keep a log of not only my time, but what happens throughout the day. Meeting notes, discussions, changes in direction etc. Interestingly enough, these logs were being delivered, along with my timesheet every week to both Metro, and the client.

The other thing I’m really good at is ‘presentation’. I constructed a reply, complete with timelines and the client’s failure to deliver as promised. In my presentation, we were, in terms of “man-hours”, at least 5 months ahead of schedule, not behind.

If you remember, in the original scope, there would be two full time developers, one with ‘extensive’ knowledge of the client’s business, as well as one half time, employee of the business, again with ‘extensive’ knowledge of the business. In addition, everything was predicated on us using the work the previous consultant had done.

For close to six months, I not only labored alone, but from scratch. No existing code library to draw from, no work flow, form designs, nothing. I’d been told we’d have 18 months of previous work to build upon.

(Life Lesson #2 – Document, document and then document some more. My ability to deliver all of this, along with log entries that backed up every instance of my reminding the client of the extended timelines very effectively rebutted a creative recreation of events!)

As we closed in on the 4th quarter, we were in very good shape. I could see the end point, our major remaining goal was to develop a mechanism for actually printing these policies. I was absolutely certain I was not going to ‘hard code’ the forms as I had no desire to spend years getting a phone call that a form needed to be changed’

Also, there were 100’s of forms, many different for different policy types, applicable state by state, and were time and date sensitive as well. We needed a ‘pipeline’ for the date issue, and a process for form selection, ordering (as they need to be in specific order in the printed policy) and a mechanism for blending portrait and landscape pages into the same ‘print job’.

A new process “Dynamic Data Exchange”, or DDE, just introduced by Microsoft, for inter-application communication was what I was banking on. That and Microsoft Word as the ‘document’ format.

This was a tall order to sell to a company who was entrenched in the “Word Perfect” product line, and had a substantial software investment there. My connections with MS at the time, and my company’s “Solution partner” status gave me the tools to build a quick proof of concept demo, the information I brought back from Comdex also gave the plan credibility.

(Life Lesson #3 – Beware the ‘sharp edge’ of technology… as instead of being on the leading edge, you may find yourself on the ‘bleeding edge’!)

What we did, and how we did it, and why it remained a “jaw dropper” for nearly a decade, is next!

Well that, and the CSMA debut at the Fall 1994 Comdex… as no discussion of my career journey would be complete without a discussion of our pilgrimage to the gathering of all things “PC”. Comdex has long since ceased to be the Mecca it once was, replaced by more ‘targeted’ gatherings. I think that’s been an unfortunate, but probably inevitable, result of the maturation of the industry.

I changed the title, as I realized this is all a lot less about the ‘client’, and more about the experience, the process, the ‘walk’ along the path.

As always, let me know what you’re thinking… how this strikes you, if you can relate, or not!

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Greg said...

Reminds me of that look on your face when we left the Economist.

Yes, Grasshopper.

Bill said...

Greg - That was exactly the right thing to do, at that point... It's tough sometimes, to see how signing a deal that big can lead to a loss... when in the final analysis... it would have been a huge loss!

I was surprized... not that we left, but that we didn't let them, negotiate, to where we wanted them.

Then again, we did have that 'knack', between us, we were usually able to 'smell' a loser... unfortunately, we didn't often listen to one another!

"Made enough money to buy Miami..."

Lorna said...

I hate it when money wins. Unfortunately, you can't have my negligible resistance to consumerism and still come out on the plus side when it comes to money. And frankly, the only time I really can't let money win is when it's in a fight to the death with morals, and thank God, I haven't had to deal with that one too often.

Bill said...

Lorna - Fortunately, I've rarely been faced with the "Money or Moral" decision, and when I have, I've had the strength to make the right choice.

The toughest fight, for me it seems, is when it's the one between doing what I *want* to do, and what I *need* to do. I seem to choose money, as it feels like it will make things better somehow... as I look back now, I'm not so sure that was always true.

Firehawk said...


Been reading all of your stuff, getting caught up. Man, they really did pull hard at both ends of the rope on that job, huh? They had to have you, but hated you being there. Seems like you got brunt of the negative energy for the previous programmer's failure.

It's tough to turn down money, even when the working environment isn't so good. Doesn't make you feel good, however, to know that you have "a price" at which you can be treated with less respect than you're used to. Everybody has a price, however. Can't do anything about that.

At least you were very productive and hit your goals, even with negative pressure coming down from above. Telling the employees that they could have had bigger bonuses, except for you, was an especially nasty thing to do.

As always, an interesting ride. Thanks for writing it all down for us.

Bill said...

Firehawk - I've been thinking about that 'price' thing a lot lately. In addition to work environments in general.

I did find, that over time, there's no amount of money that will let me tolerate being treated badly.. it just took me an inordinately long time to fully comprehend that.

One of the reasons I think Im putting this all down, is to hopefully encourage someone, anyone, not to ever settle for less than they deserve.

Thanks for the input brother... as always, it's appreciated!