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Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Satisfying Week

There were quite a few interesting developments last week. both at work and outside. Some of them, taken by themselves could be construed as upsetting and threatening, but overall, in the grand scheme of things, these developments seem to signal things turning around towards sanity in the long run.

At work, my team and I produced a detailed data flow diagram that showed our manager and director how and in what order different things had to happen for us to deliver results from the program we were writing. We made it clear that we could complete our program well within our deadline, but we were not sure that the support infrastructure existed to make the rest of the steps happen, on time, or even ever!

So, my manager and director called a meeting with our counterparts in the IT department to bring them up to speed on our requirements. The IT department had not given any thought to any of the stuff that had to happen apart from extracting some data from some enterprise databases. Even that process was well behind schedule according to their own admission.

When they saw our detailed flow diagram and the explanations of what needed to happen when and so on, their first reaction was quite predictable. They tried to weasel their way out of the whole mess by trying to imply that once they gave us the data it was entirely our responsibility to make sure the infrastructure and technical skill existed on our side to make the other stuff happen.

This was obviously absurd since our department does not have any hard-core IT skills, only mathematical modeling skills, and we rely on our IT department for making other stuff happen. But, in the past, my manager and director seemed willing to roll over and play dead, leaving us in the position of sticking to our deadline even though we did not have the knowledge or know-how to make half of the stuff in the flow chart happen.

For the first time, our director put our collective feet down, and told IT it was their responsibility to make things happen outside the actual modeling part. My week started looking up as soon as this happened. It looks likely that several positive developments will follow from this. Some of them may not appear positive at first glance, but taken together, my project's chances of success probably went up several-fold.

First of all, it is likely that the project timelines will be stretched out to accommodate the schedule IT comes up with for accomplishing stuff on the flow diagram that is outside our control. This may sound bad at first, but it is quite good. First of all, there was no way for us to keep to our timelines given that we had no skills to accomplish some of the steps in the flow diagram. It was a completely unreasonable and infeasible timeline. We would have gotten to our deadlines and had to report that half of what we needed to do was not done.

If IT actually decides to stretch the timeline by a couple of months, then it gives us all some breathing room. It also places responsibility for various steps with the groups that actually have the skills to accomplish the steps, so the project as a whole is likely to get completed according to the new timeline.

This should have been done a few months back. But it wasn't. There will probably be some gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands when the project timeline is pushed back because of this development. This separation of responsibilities should have been done a few months back. It probably would have resulted in some replanning, but we could have probably kept our published deadlines. But now, I doubt there is any alternative but to postpone our initial production delivery date. The positive development is that people have been forced to take their head out of the sand for the first time in several months!

Outside of work, I got into an argument about technology and standards with a couple of people who I thought knew what they were talking about. It turns out they did not, and I had to do a lot of research by myself, but the final outcome was that I disproved what they were trying to prove to me. It took some time on my part, but I learned a little more about technology, standards and the history of technology in the process. Another satisfying outcome overall!

My daughters start state-wide standard testing this coming Monday. The school has prepared them quite well for the test, and their work at home has been quite good too. I have no doubt they will do well on the tests. The school did something new this year: they sent the parents email asking them to write letters of encouragement to their kids so that they can read them just before they start working on the test. I think this is a very innovative idea that will bring out the best in the kids.

My wife and I sat down and wrote nice letters for our kids this week. The letters were sent to the school in envelopes just bearing the kids' names. I am sure they will be pleasantly surprised to read the letters when the sit down to begin their standard testing!

I continue to get visitors from new countries to my blog long after I have stopped holding out much hope of that happening! My new visitor for the week was from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. That makes visitors from 107 different countries to my blog!

In the blog this week, I put together a post on crosstab queries on Monday. On Tuesday, I published second part of my post on weird-looking computer mice. This was the mice that could not be accommodated in my earlier post because of the formatting snafus I talked about in last week's roundup. On Wednesday, I published a post on cubic equations and followed that up on Thursday with a humorous post on the differences between men and women as illustrated by a couple of old, but very good jokes. On Friday, I put together a post with some playful signs that bring a smile to your face. On Saturday, I summarized the technology argument I had with my friends into another post.

I also had a visitor to one of my earlier posts on Access (dealing with percentile values) post a comment asking for help with solving a related problem. The problem turned out to be somewhat challenging, but after spending a few hours trying various SQL tricks, I managed to solve the problem. Did I say this week was satisfying?!! My only disappointment was that the person who asked me the question seemed to have lost interest and moved on. At least he never posted back telling me whether my final solution worked for him/her or not. But, for the first time, I had a back and forth going on in the comments to one of my blog posts, and that by itself was satisfying to me.

Next week promises to be quite a busy one. At work, there promise to be more meetings, more presentations to put together, more spreadsheets to justify various things, etc. I probably have to participate in several hand-wringing sessions while things get adjusted to reflect new realities. Well, some things just can't be avoided I guess.

At home, the kids will be busy with their standards tests and the preparations that go with them. I probably have to sit with them in the evenings to make sure they don't have any last-minute doubts or problems with the material they are supposed to know and get tested on. At the end of next week, my kids are also supposed to participate in a singing program. They will be performing outside a group setting for the first time, so they are busy practicing for that, and I am sure they will be busy continuing their practice next week too.

My karate class is proceeding as usual. I am reviewing and practicing all my katas these days in addition to teaching the new students. I can feel my black belt test coming closer though I have no idea precisely when it is going to happen.

Now, it is time for me to get ready for the busy week ahead. I have my usual chores at the end of the weekend to take care of too. The weekends are never long enough, the week is never short enough!

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