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Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Week Filled With Meetings

This last week continued the trend from the previous couple of weeks. Life at work was filled with meetings of various sorts with various people with very little real work getting done.

One of the more important meetings was with a group of users to get their signoff on the requirements document that we had prepared for our project. We had worked with one of these users to define and detail out the requirements. Unfortunately, it turns out he was not the right person we should have been working with for that task.

At the meeting, there were users and stakeholders we had not heard from during the process at all, and our contact had made no attempt to introduce these new people to our requirements document to them at all. We had walk them through the document from the very basics. As you can imagine, we didn't get very far.

Everyone in the room had different ideas about the problem that needed to be solved and how exactly it was supposed to be solved. We battled bravely with this cacophony of ideas for the duration of the meeting, but ultimately, we have now realized that signoff on this document will probably be delayed by at least a couple of weeks. In the meantime, it might require us to meet with a lot more people and rewrite significant parts of the document to make it acceptable to all these other people. We had made the assumption that the person we worked with represented all these people at the requirements-gathering meeting. Turns out to have been a bad assumption.

We also had a bunch of meetings with IT people this week for a change. They designated one of their junior people to work with us on data issues, so we took full advantage of this to have several multi-hour meetings with this person to start thrashing out various data issues. The state of data for this project is not good, and the more we know about it, the more it seems our timelines will be severely stretched as we try to clean up existing data or collect new data.

I also worked on the weekly project plan that I was supposed to produce for this project. I have usually produced project plans in Excel in the past since it is much faster and I don't usually need the level of detail demanded for this project. This time, I decided to get into this assignment whole-hog and did it in Microsoft Project.

Some things are pretty intuitive in Project and work as you expect them to. But some other things just seem to be overly complicated and required a lot of research to pull off. An example of the latter is putting in my team's known vacation plans. It took me several hours of research to get it exactly right. And it took me a couple more hours to master the process so that I could do it without referring to a cheat sheet for each team member!

I then wanted to take the project plan in for a meeting with my manager by printing it out so that we could make changes on it collaboratively with a pen. I just could not figure out a way of printing out the list of tasks with their start and end dates, their resource assignments and their dependencies alone without the Gantt chart that comes with the plan. So, I emailed the project plan to my manager and asked him to do the printout. He has been working on Project longer than I have, so I figured he probably has some trick up his sleeve that I was not privy to. Turns out he had never figured out a way to do what I wanted to do either. I couldn't believe something could be so badly designed!

Seriously, does no one ever print out a project plan in just textual form without the Gantt chart that goes with it? I mean, that Gantt chart is several reams of paper long if you actually want it to be readable for somewhat long projects! I guess the whole point of Project is to never print out anything and work purely electronically on massaging project plans to perfection. My initial excitement at working with the new tool evaporated pretty quickly and in fact, I regret having started this in Project instead of sticking to the tried-and-true Excel. Oh well!

At home, the kids are still hard at work preparing for their math olympiad. They also have some singing and dance performances coming up for which they are practicing too. I don't remember how busy my life was when I was their age, but sometimes I think they are a lot busier than I was. I remember having at least an hour or an hour and a half to play outside every evening when I was in school. This in spite of my school hours being a lot longer than here (I typically went to school from 8 AM to 4 PM, all the way from elementary school to high school).

My kids on the other hand hardly have time to play games by themselves after their school, homework, after-school classes (some of which are physical activities like swimming, gymnastics, dance, etc.), and all this practice for various competitions and performances they are preparing for on an ongoing basis.

In my Wednesday karate class, my sensei asked me to lead the class through the warmups for a change. My sensei has a very fixed warm-up routine that we have used ever since I joined the class over 10 years back. I am sure he has been using it for probably twice as long before I joined the class! His philosophy is that people can invent warm-up exercises on a daily basis and if we wanted to try them all out, we could spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in the dojo and not get through all of them.

Instead, he has worked out a system where he stretches and loosens all the major muscles of the body in a set of exercises. This routine evolved during his early years of trying to make sure every muscle group got the stretching it needed, and once he was satisfied with it, he has been using it ever since with practically no changes. The entire routine takes only about 20 minutes, so one could basically memorize it and use it as a daily workout even when we don't have Karate class. In fact, he actively advocates that we do it, and claims that he does it on a daily basis to keep up his flexibility and strength.

Because of that, most students are expected to know the entire routine after a few months and be capable of leading the class during the warm-up if called upon. I have been called upon to do this once every few weeks since my second or third year in the class. Now, I can probably go through these exercises even in my sleep, without giving it any thought.

The one thing I have noticed though, is that when I am in front of the class leading the rest of the students through this warm-up routine, I tend to concentrate and focus more on what I am doing. I tend to do the stretches with a little more effort, go into deeper stances with my splits, in general keep an eye on my form and the exact mechanics of what I am going through.

One way to look at it is that I am showing off in front of the class when given the chance! The other way to look at is to realize that when I am leading the class in this routine, the rest of the students are actively learning from me. They will pick up on bad form and poor effort from me, and might try to emulate that when they practice by themselves. so, it makes sense for the person leading the warm-up to put extra effort into it so that they set an example worth emulating for the students in the class.

The youngest students in the class have not been called on to lead the class yet, but I have a feeling they will be called upon sometime soon. Hope they will be prepared for it when it happens because my sensei tends to get irritated when students in the class for more than a few months don't even know the warm-up routine enough to be able to do it without somebody else leading them through it.

Because of all the meetings I have been having at work and overall less free time I am having at home because of my kids' preparations for their various competitions, I haven't posted as much as I would like to my blog in the past couple of weeks. My posting frequency has gone well down from at least once a day to more like once every alternate day. But I did manage to write up another post on Access and one more on Vedic Mathematics.

And that reminds me: now it is time to post this to my blog, and go do some research. On two different things. The first one is an Access problem for which I thought I had a solution. Turns out my solution has a flaw in it, so I can't post it the way I have written it up. I know what the flaw is and algorithmically, what I need to do to fix it. But I need to think about it some more and figure out exactly how to reformulate the solution. I also need to make sure that this new solution does not have any flaws in it that I am currently unaware of!

The other one is a very silly problem, but I haven't been able to figure it out so far. Another blog owner has given me permission to post something on his blog (which is actually a team blog with lots of authors). But I haven't been able to take advantage of this permission to actually post in this team blog because I can't seem to get Google Blogger to show me this other blog in my Blogger dashboard so that I can add posts to it! I know, I know, you are probably laughing at me, but I am that new to blogging, what can I say?!

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