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Sunday, October 11, 2009

I Finally Have A Project To Lead!

Finally, some action on the work front. The last week has been pretty busy work-wise.

After all the politics surrounding my work in the past few months, I was beginning to think that I would never get back to working productively on anything. After my last email to my manager, I followed it up with several face-to-face conversations with him, but the situation was tricky and my manager and I did not see eye to eye all the time. My team's morale was down in the dumps as we were relegated to doing nothing but support work for the past few months.

Even support work was a little tricky. Some of the tools and models we were supporting were supposed to be obsoleted by the new vendor tool in the future. Every time we tried to do some support work on such models, the IT department wanted to know why we were working on a tool that was supposed to be obsoleted. We then had to explain that we were not enhancing it or making any improvements to it, just making sure it continued working.

In short, it was not a very pleasant work environment at all for the past several months.

Finally, we identified some functionality that none of the vendor tools could provide, and decided to explore if we could work on incorporating that functionality into any future system that was deployed, regardless of the vendor selection and evaluation process. Essentially, it was a modification of what I had suggested to my manager in my email, partially disassociating ourselves from what IT was doing, and concentrating on some project where we could add value.

The politics of it were probably horrendous, but my manager and director tried various tactics to get the IT department to carve out a project for us to work on while they went about their merry way doing useless stuff. We got final approval for starting a new project that would not be considered as stepping on IT's toes about 2 weeks back.

Then came the tough job of defining the scope of the project and coming up with requirements for it. The problem was that the project we would be working on was highly interconnected with what the vendor products would deliver. In fact, ideally, it should have been developed as one big integrated model, and our department had the expertise and experience to do it. We were hampered from actually doing it because IT never gave us the data infrastructure that would enable us to do it.

Now, as part of the vendor evaluations, they were creating the data infrastructure to get such a project off the ground, but we could not work on it without escalating tensions tremendously. We knew that none of the vendor products had the sophistication that we could bring to the final product, given that they lacked crucial functionality (such as the functionality we would be working on), and what functionality they had was present in separate modules instead of being in one integrated module.

In any case, what all this meant was that we had to be very careful about what the scope of our project was going to be. There had to be as little overlap as possible with the functionality that would be provided by the vendor tool. To do that, we had to meet several times with the IT department to understand what functionality IT considered to be under their purview and what functionality they would consider ceding to us.

Once the scoping exercise was done, we contacted the users and explained what we were doing. We had to get detailed requirements for this project from them. As far as the users were concerned, IT and our department were one big happy family that provided solutions to their problems. They were not privy to the dysfunctionality within this big happy family, so we had to keep up appearances!

We explained to them what our project was all about, and there were quite a few raised eyebrows on the user side that questioned why the vendor tool was not providing this functionality to them as part of the package they were promised by IT. We were tempted several times to just blurt out that the vendor tool was a useless product that we were buying only because of a trojan horse director in IT, not because of its technical excellence. But that would be like airing our dirty laundry in public. And anyways, the users would know how useless the vendor product was once they started using it soon anyways, so there was no point in coming off like sore losers right now.

Eventually the users understood that the problem ideally required an integrated solution. But, the vendor tool was not going to deliver such integrated functionality. In fact, it was going to be missing some functionality. And we were going to go in and fill in the gaps with our project. And, obviously, it would not be integrated with anything because we can not. But we promised them that it would be OK initially. We did not explicitly tell them that the ideal solution would require that the vendor product be thrown out eventually (along with the trojan horse director in IT, hopefully) and replaced by an expansion of the project we would be working on, but hopefully the users understood that!

After collecting the requirements, it was time to put it into a formal document and then come up with a project plan. Lots of meetings, lots of discussions with users, discussions within the team, no wonder the last week was quite a blur of intense activity. I created more new spreadsheets than I have created in the past few months before that combined. I wrote more powerpoint slides and put together more presentations than I have done in the past few months before that combined, as well.

All this meant less time to spend on doing other things I have gotten used to doing in the past few months - less time for blogging, less time to learn and/or write about Vedic Mathematics, less time to surf the web for interesting stuff. less time for personal emails, etc. But still, it was a good feeling. It is all well and good to be getting free money, but earning the money somehow feels better. My team and I will probably be busy with this project for at least the next year or so provided IT comes through with the right data feeds. I am keeping my fingers crossed for that.

I get paid to add value to my company, not sit around and surf the web, attend to personal emails, write blogs or learn and teach Vedic Mathematics. I add value by taking up and leading projects that make money or save money for my company. For the past few months, I have been sitting around without any projects to lead. As I told my manager last Friday, I finally have a project to lead! Time for me to get back into the work mode I was in before the past few months!! Wish me good luck!!!

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