Live and kicking

My chatbot project reached its culmination last night. At 2.30am it went live. I wasn’t up for it – I’d been up till midnight checking in with Sydney and Bhopal – but I got a message at that time that it was done.

Coming into work this morning I knew it was one thing being deployed, but being successfully deployed was a different matter. We’d done all the testing and I was pretty confident with the design, but you never know. I was in a little after 8am and checked it out straight away. First glance it seemed fine. The next half hour I checked it over, found a couple of minor issues, but in general felt relieved.

It’s a few hours on now and nothing yet has come crawling out of the woodwork. Too early to make anything of the basic metrics, but early indications are that uptake has increased, handling rates are much improved, and it appears less come through to an agent to handle.

That probably doesn’t make sense much to you and that’s fine. It’s probably a bit boring too. For me, it feels quite an accomplishment because like no other project I’ve been involved with this is all me. Scandalously so. I was the BA and project manager. I came up with the design, I wrote the scripts, defined the rules. I did all the comms for it. Throughout I had no-one meaningful to turn to for assistance outside the developers who, regardless, are only doing what I tell them to do. And leading into this I had no experience in this nor any special insight – I had to figure it out for myself and apply it using my best judgement.

That was one of the issues going through, one of faith. This was my baby, but was it the right baby? I mean, did I have a true and accurate perspective of it? Was the solution I defined the correct one? I’m a confident man but I’m not stupid. You need other perspectives and contrary voices, but every time I sought one the feedback was blandly encouraging – this is great, H! – or non-committal. When I went to the managers seeking their input and feedback I got fucking zilch (a good indication of how timid they are. No-one will go out on a limb, that’s left to me).

And so I had to keep forging ahead pretty well solo. And now it’s in and working and looking good and yes, very early days yet, but it looks like it hit the mark.

Not surprisingly I feel pretty frazzled now. That’s often the case when a big project finally comes to fruition. You’ve held it in for so long working intently towards a goal that a part of you is permanently tensed. Then it is implemented and you hold your breath until the point comes that realise that yes, it works as you planned. Then it catches up with you. All the pent up stuff is let out. You relax finally, what a fucking relief!

Anyway, I’ll be here over the next week tracking it pretty closely to make sure nothing untoward pops up. We’ll be extending it further now it’s been deployed successfully, and it will become a much bigger thing. And now I’ve got to knuckle down and finalise the reports I’ve been designing. No rest for the wicked.


Hard and ruthless

I watched the first episode of a new TV series last night. Succession seems loosely based on the Murdoch family – and aging patriarch and media mogul, a brood of clever and ambitious children, and the wrestle for power. Only episode one but it was very good.

As I was watching, I had a nagging sense of recognition watching the patriarch, played by Brian Cox. Something in him reminded me of my father, I wasn’t sure what. Perhaps it was the sense of quiet but undeniable authority, wrapped though in a declining body. The will still strong, the body becoming frail – though the last time I saw dad he couldn’t be described as frail.

It wasn’t just my father I saw in him though, but who the other is I’ve yet to identify.

While I watched, I reflected on something that had happened earlier in the day. For context, as I have explained previously, one of the projects I’m running is to upgrade a chatbot. It’s quite frustrating often as I get very little support, have no resources, no budget, and most seem indifferent to it. There’s a dotted line to a senior manager who has no real practical involvement, but who seems to be conducting a guerrilla operation promoting the upgrade – I feel almost surreptitious in my role.

I’m dealing with vendors who are well intentioned but must be micro-managed – I can’t presume they’ll know to dot the i and cross the t, I must be explicit in instructing them. This is time-consuming and very often frustrating. Despite my best efforts, I can’t get anyone interested in what I once believed to be basic project management principles and tools. And I’m doing this while trying to carry on with my usual role, which is particularly busy right now.

Because I’m practically solo the design is almost 100% mine. To get to that point has required a lot of analysis and consideration and – wherever possible – consultation. I think it’s pretty good, but my aim is to make it great. Always is.

It’s getting towards the pointy end and I’m reviewing what’s been done and making refinements. Problem is that I’m too close to it to be truly objective now. I asked my offsider to go through it and he made some useful observations but still, he knows the business too well. So I popped upstairs to speak to the manager.

I wanted to discuss with him the option of getting some focus group testing. He’s ex-marketing and I made the assumption that they do that as a matter of course and he would be know how we go about it.

What happened instead is that after I asked him he called me into a room. You’re coming to me with problems instead of solutions, he said. I’m telling you this for your own good, he went on. He went on a bit, all on the same theme, while I remained silent. In truth I was bemused. I watched carefully, leaning forward, fascinated by what he had to say. Gradually I got pissed off – I have a low tolerance for bullshit these days. At the end of it, I told him the solution was that he should tell me who I needed to speak to to make it happen.

By now I was quietly seething. I could have said a lot, but didn’t. I’d have happily punched him in the face for his patronising manner, but didn’t do that either. Fact is – as I could have told him – is that I’m dealing with problems all the time and finding a way to solve them. I’m on the phone to the vendors 2-3 times a day, and probably by email another couple, fixing things up and resetting direction. The whole bloody solution we propose has come out of my head. I’m not someone who runs for help, I find it myself. If I come to him seeking assistance then it’s legit.

By now we’re out of the room and he has given me the answer he should have given me five minutes before – speak to so-and-so. Now I’m discussing another issue with him and it’s clear that he has no real idea and sees me bringing up such things as obstructive. True, they’re pointless as I realise, as he knows too little to be of help – but the things I raise are legitimate and must be sorted out and require someone at a management level to intervene. By now I have become very steely. I cut him off. I take it up to him. In front of his staff, I’m now dictating the conversation. Are we on the same page? I ask in conclusion. Yes, we’re on the same page he answers.

I walk away and think, what was that? And I’m almost a little concerned at my manner. I can’t really disagree with much I said – I was restrained – what I worry about is how absolutely implacable I was. He couldn’t touch me. I listened, I watched, and I was absolutely clinical. In the end, it was the force of my being that had him back-tracking.

Is this the man I’ve become? It seems incongruous given my recent efforts to be home and honest and vulnerable. It seems strange when I think how delicate I was on the weekend with someone who wanted to share with me, and generally how affable I am at work, how kind and compassionate I can be. Yet, it seems, I can be all these things.

I also watched an episode of Ray Donovan last night. There were times when I was struggling when I would watch Ray and relate to him somehow, even while wishing I could adopt his direct manner to deal with some of the issues in my life. This season’s Ray is more vulnerable than before, more inclined to gentleness, and as he heads that way I become more as he was – at least in certain aspects.

I’ve always said I treat everyone the same. What happens after that depends on the other. It’s useful perhaps to be so ruthless sometimes, but I’m not sure it’s good for me.

Too busy to be H

Busy days mean there’s not much time to write, and not much mental space to consider what I’ll write. Generally, there’ll be things floating by in my mind and every so often I’ll pluck one of them from the mental ether and set to write about it. But when your mind is fixed so intently on other things there is much less floating by. When I’m not working I’m thinking about work – and that goes equally for my work in the office and for my writing work at home.

It’s full on. For months I’ve been developing a chatbot, virtually solo. It’s a ridiculous situation to be in. I look at the well-resourced projects around me bumbling along in their slow-witted, indecisive fashion, while I’m doing it all myself, sanctioned by the higher-ups though off the books like. They’re fortunate to have me doing it and, I’d suggest if I didn’t exist then this project wouldn’t either. I’m the creative force that drives it along, I can carry it all in my head, and because needs must pretty well do all the project functions myself, in liaison with an external vendor.

I like the challenge of it, like the creative demands, but I get frustrated too. I feel as if I’m off in a tributary and no matter how it turns out I’ll derive nothing from it. The vendor is well-meaning but disorganised and I’m doing half their work often, which just adds to the strain. And the lack of resourcing and buy-in sometimes pisses me off. I report ostensibly to one of the Digital managers and I can see now he’ll take the credit for this if it works. He’s not a bad guy, he’s got some smarts but – with a marketing background – there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors. He’s smart enough to leave me to my devices, but I cock an eye sometimes when he swans in and begins to grandstand. By now he understands how I feel.

It’s come to the pointy end of this project, which is why I’m so busy with it. I’ve literally got my fingers in every bit of the pie, but I need my hands elsewhere. Christmas should see it done, and it should be good.

The other stuff I’m working on is a submission to certified for somesuch. I’ve been coordinating every part of the business to get their contribution, which is a bit like herding a pack of wayward cats. Their submissions were due last Friday, but predictably many were missing. So, I’m chasing up the missing bits while collating all the bits I have to make sense of them. We have about 40 submissions across 27 different categories and my job is to combine, shape and re-configure. It’s a bit like being given a couple of jigsaw puzzles and told to combine them into one picture.

This is full-on. Basically, the plan is to get this done by Christmas too, but a lot of this is very complex and comprehensive. It’s not something you can rush, but I have little time.

Then there’s my home writing. I paused it over the weekend – or rather all I did was go back and clean bits I’d already written. I’ve had a growing conviction over the last few weeks that I’d taken a wrong turn. More particularly, the story needed another element. I considered putting the book away for a month or two while I figured it out – no point continuing down the wrong path. But, as it happens, the mind continues to work away and I think a solution has come to me. It’s just an outline right now but I’m sure my mind will continue to furnish it with details.

So, that’s the story. That’s why I’ve been missing from these pages, and why I might continue to be absent. My mind is full of other things, and my time too – not forgetting I have to write a poem by Saturday as well.

No shame

Okay, this is another grizzle about work, just for the record.

I got out of the engagement committee about six weeks ago for reasons I explained at the time. It’s gone through a rocky patch since but has started to steady. The key guy on it has close links to me and is now running with some of the big-ticket proposals I put forward at the time – namely a proper rewards and recognition program, plus a wellness program. That’s basically my IP and so he comes to me often seeking guidance on it and general info – though, naturally, it’s being obstructed at a management level.

As each week goes by another engagement initiative is either announced or is seen as an obvious need. All of these, bar just one, are things I proposed back then and documented. At the time they were held up by office politics or personalities or the general disorganisation of the committee. I’m glad to see these things happening, but it twists the knife a tad.

This follows on from the creation of a new function on the floor which I first submitted as a proposal around the middle of last year. Back then it was ignored, or else I was told it was too advanced for this place. Somehow it got resurrected a few months back. Whether it was because of their good graces, or because they were scrambling, but at least this time they contacted me to get a copy of my original and very detailed proposal. That was the only reference to me – I wasn’t involved with or consulted regarding the set-up, or acknowledged in any other way. As it happens they’ve implemented it in a half-arsed fashion, always the way here, as if lacking the resolve to take the final step to do it properly. It’s a nice idea, and better than nothing, but lacks the metrics and reporting that was such an integral part of the initial proposal.

Now an email has popped up in my inbox advertising for a new role almost exactly as that I put forward around the same time last year. It’s an overarching role that should tie-in with the function I proposed as above while taking on additional responsibilities and being a conduit to related areas. Once more this was subject of a detailed briefing paper. It seems like it’s been adopted 15 months later, even down to the job title, but of course, it came as a complete surprise to me when I saw it.

I wonder if I’m entitled to be put out by all this. It feels a bit petulant. And, if I’m honest, I’m glad to see my ideas being adopted. What pisses me off is that after being basically pooh-poohed initially (for pretty spurious reasons), my ideas finally see the light of day but without any reference to me, without any input, and certainly without acknowledgement. As one of my colleagues said, pretty de-motivating.

I’d cop it easier if I was being properly paid. It wouldn’t matter so much, it would just be the product of my job. Here I am though, paid a pittance, on top of which they have the temerity to pinch my IP.

PS A day later and I feel a little embarrassed by this. Everything I wrote is legit, except it amounts to a mighty grizzle. It’s done now and I should be above feeling sorry for myself, and my ego has no business getting involved. Easier said than done, but time I attended to what I wrote the other day: just be.

Kindness and grace

The girls from the shop want to take me out for dinner – that is, the girls from the massage shop I sold out of four years ago. It was such an intense period of my life that it comes as a surprise that it was so long ago. Most of the girls from then have dispersed since, and many of them are back home in Thailand now. There’s a few still here though, and they’re the people I was closest to back then. I don’t see them a lot, but I probably catch up with them 2-3 times a year – which is surprising in itself given the time passed, and very gratifying.

This is what I know about Thais. They’re loyal and hard-working. The best of them are reliable and will bend over backwards to help. They’re famous for being gracious and friendly, but they’re also honest and uncomplaining. There’s no way I could have survived my time as a massage shop proprietor except with the active support of my staff, and the fact I got out of it by the skin of my teeth is thanks to their efforts. I’ll always be grateful to them, which is why I can’t do enough to help them when they need it.

That’s the other side of the Thai character. They want to shout me dinner because I’ve helped them out with this or that over the last year and they want to do the right thing and acknowledge it.

In my mind, there’s no need for it, but it’s gracious of me to accept it, so I do. Unfortunately, they have a tendency to contact me in the morning wanting to go out in the evening. That would work for me a lot easier when I was younger. These days I want more notice, particularly because of Rigby.

Right now I don’t know if I’m going out for dinner tonight or not. Whether it’s tonight or another time I look forward to seeing them again. In the toughest of times, they were people I could rely upon and were a rare friendly presence in my life. When I look back at that period of my life seems incredibly hard, and very grim. I don’t know how I survived it but know I wouldn’t have without the small acts of kindness and support from my friends and the girls in the shop.

Ups and downs

So, I get into work tomorrow determined to let things go and, of course, two things happen.

First one is someone does something inappropriate which basically threw me under the bus. It was recognised as being wrong and management scrambled to rectify the situation, but a lot of the damage couldn’t be undone. Safe to say I had steam coming out of my ears.

Then later in the day I have a meeting with the enigmatic digital manager, the guy ultimately responsible for the project I’m managing. We meet downstairs in a café and talk confidentially. Probably as I’m writing this (8.47am) he’s presenting to the board a strategy he wants them to opt for. It’ a departure from the present steady as she goes philosophy and is contentious with many. It accords with both my assessment of the business and my general philosophy. The things we do should be determined by an overarching strategy and be part of a roadmap in which one things leads onto another. Momentum is built that way and economies of scale achieved.

For this business it’s quite a bold strategy and there’s no certainty it will be adopted. If it is there will be a whole raft of related projects and BAU activities, and he wants me to be responsible for a great slew of the operational components of that. I would basically become a channel manager, which would suit me fine and satisfy much that I need. It changes the conversation from the other day – maybe there is hope here, and maybe I can move on.

The other side of it is if his proposal is not adopted. In that case he reckons there’ll be no place here for him and he’ll move on, and it’ll probably be the same for me It’s all a gamble.

What do I think? I know this place. They’ll aim for a safe compromise solution that satisfies no-one. It’ll blow up to the point they need to make a cal. Which call I don’t know – there’s a lot of politics involved.

The dying parrot

I’m still working hard, but it’s been a struggle the last few days. Normally I’m full of man juice, but it’s been on the wane since I got the news. I’m still at work but I feel a little like the man having caught out his partner cheating on him and persuaded to not do anything drastic, discovers the feeling has gone, the magic has fled, it is, as Monty Python would say, a dead parrot.

There’s no love in me after this. I’m a wholehearted character and I take pride in that. I invest heavily. I put my shoulder into everything I do. I’m self-motivated and enterprising, but I feel now as if I’m going through the motions.

I still haven’t been told why I missed on the job, though it’s becoming clearer. The appointment was announced on Tuesday. The job went to a woman I know and who none of us considered a contender. She was never considered a contender because no-one believed she had the experience – certainly not the technical expertise, and though she has leadership experience, not project management experience either.

I felt both disgusted and relieved when I found out. The surprise was general. I quipped that I now understood why I missed out – clearly experience is unimportant.

I like her in a way, but I’m not as enamoured of her as some others are. She’s generally friendly, and generally gives off the impression of competence, but she has a better reputation with her seniors than she does with her juniors. Had this job gone through a recruiting agency she’d have been screened out in the first phase because of her lack of experience, but there’s the rub.

My offsider despises her. He thinks she’s a phony. As soon as I heard he said “there you go man, that’s why you didn’t get the job”. He reckons I was never a chance once she applied. I didn’t know this, but apparently her brother is on the board and whatever she applies for she gets. Others have since told me the same. If this is true then it’s pretty rude, but probably more common than you think.

I’m not going to think about that too much. It’s pretty scurrilous in the end, and not her fault. I wish her the best. I may have a nasty taste in my mouth, but if it comes to it I’ll support her any way I can.

If it comes to it. The last few days I’ve felt like I just want to give the whole thing away. That’s not sensible, but I feel poorly treated and generally disrespected. I wonder what I’m supposed to do after this, and as if no matter what I do it will come to naught here.

There was another example of that the other day just to rub salt into the weeping wound. About three months ago I attended a vendor presentation, then came back and wrote a high level proposal by email and sent it off to the head of Ops. I articulated clearly a few points which might have a significant impact if adopted. I got zero response.

On Tuesday I was called into a meeting where someone else was presenting exactly what I had proposed months ago. While my email had been ignored this guy had mentioned something in the last month and been encouraged to take it further. Again, I’ve got nothing against this fellow, he’s just doing his job – and he’s a lovely bloke too, if a bit of a duffer. What bit hard is that clearly my opinion counts for nothing. This was my idea, and right in my wheelhouse too – it’s what I do well. But I was disregarded.

It’s hard not to feel put out right now. I sat there last night thinking I’m close to being depressed. It’s funny, I’m very open minded and sensitive and considerate. If someone’s depressed I feel compassion for them. I want to be supportive. When it’s me there’s a residue left over by that masculine juice. I don’t deny it but it riles me. It probably goes back to my competitive instinct – I don’t like to be bested, even by something as insidious as depression. (This is something I have to address one day as it goes to the heart of who I am).

I’ve felt this way before and when I do there’s a moment when I choose to defy it. I won’t go into my shell. That moment came overnight and the response is classic for me. Be big, H, I tell myself. Be bigger, smarter, harder, be better than the situation, go hard in your work, show the world why you are who you claim to be.

The ironic thing is that it goes against what I wrote a couple of weeks ago about hoping to live smaller. I believe that still, but there’s comfort in reverting to old customs, and protection in it too. Choosing to live smaller takes a different type of courage, and makes you more vulnerable.

So I’ll be big again. I assume this role and the world looks upon it and sees someone striding ahead making wisecracks, with no insight into the man inside. It goes against what I want, but perhaps it’s necessary sometimes. So I’ll fake it until in a week or so I’ve made it again. Story of my life.