A cat by any other name




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Meow to me

We're behind on our development schedule for this project, but considering the lack of design freeze and the fact that they've tried to cram three months worth of work into the last month, this has come as no surprise to me. The problem is that even though we've tried to gently indicate the delays, the higher-ups weren't listening and now all of a sudden it's smacking them in the face, and as I started a conference call this afternoon (I volunteered to participate in a consulting forum that meets monthly via phone), I suddenly was handed a paper by one of the admins who looked uncharacteristically sober and was told that there was a mandatory meeting I was to attend, no excuses.

The meeting was, as I expected, called to figure out just why we were behind. The thing is, of everything else we've done, this is less than 5% of total development, but that didn't matter. All they cared was why weren't we done, and when would we be completed. The development manager and I sat on our end of the phone and stared at each other and tried to explain the situation, and through it all I started to question my handling of this. Did I not communicate the delays well enough? Did I gloss over them too much? I'd been responsible for sending out the status reports the last few weeks - had I made them too cheerful? So after the meeting ended, and we were both sitting there a bit shell-shocked and trying to recover, the manager turned to me and said the last thing I expected. Instead of a reprimand for somehow failing in the reporting, he apologized to me for my having to deal with that meeting. And then he shook my hand and told me in a firm voice that I was doing a great job - almost as if he was trying to make sure that I didn't take that phone call personally. It was a little reminder that despite everything, it's all going to work out in the end.

Tonight we had a team dinner for all the consultants from my particular company (there's probably over a hundred consultants on this project, all from different groups, and my company's got about 25 people here on site). The testing manager planned it all - he's in the unique position of actually being a recognized project manager within our company, whereas I'm merely project manager of this particular project by default because the customer is the one who put me there (although it's been made fairly clear that nearly everyone else on the project wouldn't want to touch my job with a ten-foot pole). So he's the one who organized the whole shindig, and he's the one who stood up and did a little speech after we were pleasantly sated from dinner, thanking all of us for our hard work, and giving special note to some of us. He started with me, since I suppose that in the big scheme of things I've got the most high-profile position on the team. And what he said took me back a bit too. He noted that of all the people on the project, I'm the one who is completely irreplaceable.

He's not the first to tell me that, and if I look at it logically I know I have to agree. It's not that I've tried to put myself into this sort of position, but it's simply ended up that way. I'm in a very unique place on this project, straddling the line between business and development, fingers in both sides of the pie, running from planning meetings to technical design discussions to prioritizing bug fixes. I'm the sole input into our side of development - if it doesn't get past me, it doesn't get done, although I'm not exactly thrilled to be the one with that kind of power, because it often means that even on days like today when I'm fighting a head cold, I still had to be at work, to deal with status meetings and testing issues and all the other normal little crisises that pop up each day on this project.

But it has made me think. Recently I put my resume online, and I've gotten a fair number of calls - enough to let me realize that, despite my worries and insecurity, I'm definitely marketable. But it is time to take that resume down. This is not a good time to leave - I may not like it, but the fact is, this project would suffer if I left and I'm entrenched too deeply to want to go anyway.

I'm not giving up on my dream of leaving consulting, and I'm starting to put out feelers for any opportunities I can to improve my chances the next time one of these management positions open up. But that's a goal for the future. I know how to deal with these people. I know what reports the business needs, sometimes before they even ask for them. I know what to monitor and who to prod and push in order to get things done when I need them done. I know how to wheedle the technical analysts into doing their job, even when they don't want to. I know how to handle the business folks and how to smooth over the rough spots. It may be crazy and hectic with the usual 'what's the plan today?' type of situation, but at least it's an insanity I've grown used to. And for now, it's exactly where I belong.