Monday, August 07, 2006

Plan?… We don’t need no stinkin plan!…

That’s about the size of it, the answer I got when asking the folks at the potential new gig what the plan was. The plan was, there was no plan.

Now I’m certainly not the highest paid contractor out there, but I’m also not the least expensive option either. When a project falls back on my desk after the company originally went with a lower cost option, two things happen at my end.

First, a red flag goes up. Why? Well, in my experience, often times the original contractor didn’t ‘cut it’ because the company is in a very, very, bad spot, and the person was in way over their head. Back in the day, I lived for those gigs, I loved being able to shine where others hadn’t.

Those days however, are long over.

The other thing that happens is that the project also catches my interest. I know that’s a bit twisted, but it’s true. My interest gets peaked because it’s also possible the company has a very challenging project, one that will not only use all of my skills, but have me learning new ones as well.

So, when this company decided I was the guy they wanted, I started asking questions.

Not extremely difficult questions, or so I thought.

I asked:
  • How long will I be required to be on site?
  • How many days, weeks, months did they expect me to need to be there, before switching to working remotely (as in from my office in NC)?
  • What did they plan to have me doing? What portion of the project?
  • Was there a copy of the project plan available?
All reasonable questions, or so I thought.

As it turned out, they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, actually fully answer them.

I spoke at length many times with the recruiter, attempting to explain to him that I was not about to travel 600 miles to jump into a project with no scope, no plan, with no idea what I’d be doing, or how long I’d be expected to be there.

One of the answers I did get, sort of, had to do with the length of the contract, as in 3 months, 6 months, a year, longer? The answer was, “This is forever” – That concerned me as well… red flag… what kind of project brings people on board, contractually, with no idea for what length of time they expect to need them?

The more I talked with the recruiter, the more it became clear that he just didn’t seem to understand that I’ve been exactly here, many, many times before. In each and every case, everyone involved all assured me it would all get ‘worked out’ once I was there, and in every case, it never did get worked out.

There were impossible deadlines, long hours and no appreciation for the effort, just demands for more, and more, production.

There were attempts today to explain that the new project had only been granted budget approval in the past couple of weeks, that there hadn’t been ‘time’ to develop a scope, or requirements, document.

That simply raised another question… how does a public company, grant budgetary approval, or properly allocate funds, to a project with no formal specification? Once again, a red flag… a huge, waving, red flag.

In the end, at about 4:30 this afternoon, I simply took my name out of the game.

Too many questions, and not enough answers for me to seriously consider taking the project on.

I write quite a bit about why I like contracting, it’s probably time for me to talk some about the down sides.

Often, a company will start looking for contract help, when their project is in trouble. Hoping that if they just throw some bodies at the problem it will go away, and, if it doesn’t they can always blame the contractor(s) in the short run.

Many times, they’re looking to bring in a ‘rain maker’, a contractor with a track record of success in hopes he, or she, will just put their head down and make it happen. There was a time when I would have done that. Jumped in with both feet and done whatever it took to get the project done, on time, and on budget. Not any more.

I’ve seen far too many poorly planned projects, too many managers who felt the existing application was well enough known that no formal requirements needed to be drawn up, and too many failed projects (and failed companies) to want to go down that road again.

For those of you who’ve never been involved with building a new version of an existing product it’s a bit like building a new house. Except you need to live in the existing house, and the new one is being built around, and over it!

The old application is generally full of problems, things that were discovered after the application had been started, and were never fully addressed. Usually this is addressed using what I call the ‘code around’ method. It involves wrapping enough code, around the problem(s) to mask, and or get them out of the way.

In addition, there are also many ‘had to have’ features, that are no longer needed, and several new features that many of the users know are sorely needed, but that IS/IT has never been informed of, at least in any formal way.

In short, if you’re building this new house, and there’s a problem with the existing plumbing, from and to the street, you need to get that into the project plan early, not allow the builders to think they’ll be using the existing lines!!

I am strangely disappointed though… this gig sounded so good during the initial interviews and technical discussions; I was genuinely excited about the possibilities. The company is a major player in the financial marketplace, doing a booming business, and has little or no real competition in the areas it serves.

Fortunately, I wasn’t banking on this gig to pay the bills!! I know in my heart, that had I needed the gig to put food on the table, I’d be packing, regardless of the red flags. I’m feeling fortunate today to have the gig I have, and also very rededicated to my efforts on the current gig. In fact, with all of this going on today I made real progress on the testing of the VFP 9.0 conversion.

I have all the menus modifications done, and several of the front line form changes tested out and regression tested as well.

I hope your day was a little less ‘involved’ than mine!

Technorati Tags: - - -
-IceRocket Tags: - - -


Lorna said...

Oh Bill, your post made me feel quite relaxed---it meant that I could piggyback my project woes on yours and not have to write a rant about working for people with no plan. I've taken a small contract to organize a conference and have been trying since May to get a set of learning objectives from the management. I'm not about to plan a conference without one, and they're not about to examine themselves and figure out what they want to learn at their event. I fear I'm about to bail too, but something keeps me niggling at them to put their collective egoes in a box for a while and get a plan. Is this the wisdom of age, I wonder? or the foolishess of age?

Kim said...

Bill, you poor thing. it's always something! I don't know how you stand it.

Jada's Gigi said...

I've been shocked to find that many so called "big players" in the business world run their companies in just such a haphazardly way. Then good people end up getting screwed...just happened to my daughter working for a VERY large banking institution whom you would definitly recognize...I was truly appalled...glad you didn't have to have the job to survive...she did...thank God He opened another door for her...

Bill said...

Lorna - "examine themselves" ... that's what it's all about, in the end. Most of these folks think they know, everythign there is to know, about themselves and the business. THey might, but without putting it all on paper, the delivered reality is likely to be much different!

I'm glad my post relaxed you!

Kim - I know.... I just complain, complain, complain... I think my blood alcohol level must be low!! :)

Cheryl - Yeah.. me too, and I'm glad I'm able to take a step back these days... back in the day I would have jumped in with both feet!! I'm glad your daughter landed on her feet, and hopefully the new place is a LOT better!

Spirit Of Owl said...

I don't know whether to burst out laughing or commiserate. Probably both!!

Sorry the gig fell through, but well, I hope that something interesting comes along to fill your time... [wink wink!] :P

Ted Roche said...

I have never regretted as much the projects I turned down as the projects I accepted. Good post, Bill, and a good call.

Bill said...

Spirit - We definitely need to carve out some time to get our own plan together!

Go ahead and laugh by the way... I have been!! We can comiserate over a cold one or two at another time!

Ted - Very true words!! I know I've been fortunate in that I've had some great projects,, and that the bad ones didn't ruin me financially, or professionally (although a couple came close!).

It's always a tough call, with many unknowns, in this case, there were no "knowns"... so the call was pretty easy.

But thanks for the words of encouragement.

Beth said...

Well, since I am living in a home that is having a home built around it, I think I completely understand and can say from experience, that absolutely sucks!

Bill said...

Beth - It may suck... but sometimes it's the only way to get it done! I'm sure you have a plan for this project though!!

There's nothing wrong with having to deal with all the realities. It's attempting to do it without first identifying as many as you possibly can that bothers me. Even when you think you've got them all.. it's a virtual certainty something will get missed anyway!!

I hope your project gets done on time, and you love the results!