Paint By Numbers

With a backlog of work piling up and new requests coming in, our customers were not getting the attention and timeliness that they deserved.

That burden weighed on me far more than all the nights and weekends that I sacrificed for Elara.. Anyone paying attention would see that we were understaffed, and I saw that problem months before it became severe.

This was the perfect storm of Mike’s flaws, as it hit on hiring practices, time management, resource utilization, performance, quality control, and leadership skills.

As in other examples, just one decision could have changed the trajectory of our path — and that’s especially true when it comes to their limited look at the lay of the land.

When we hired our first Tableau developer to meet Elara’s growing interest in dashboard reporting, that made perfect sense. When they wanted to hire a 2nd one a few months later, I thought it was misguided — as there were more pressing needs.

Maybe they knew something I didn’t about future demands. But as usual, the problem is that they showed no interest in understanding what I might see that they don’t.

I cannot overstress that Elara is lucky to have those Tableau experts — top-notch professionals.

But we needed to get our “engine” in working order while but Mike and Dave wanted to hire another “painter.” That is not the mark of management with in-depth insight into their operation.

I’ll grant that the second one was debatable — that they wanted a third is indefensible.

I was not concerned about the missing skills of the first guy, because Tableau was all the really mattered at the time. Only a few months later, things had changed — but the powers that be seemed utterly unaware of their surroundings.

Part of that is due to their “above my pay grade” pursuits.

What often happens in IT is that management pushes technology that the business may not even care about. Such strategic thinking is necessary to take the business to the next level, so some of that is understandable.

But you need to be cognizant of how far and how fast you go about it.

If you try to convert people from their comfort zone too quickly (especially when you’re not ready), you can blow your buy-in on that alone (and did, to a degree). The wisest course of action was to get Tableau going with one developer, and get your house in order with another.

That way you’re planting the seeds for the future, while building the foundation for them to grow.

Mike wasn’t interested in my observations that cut into his territory — as always.

Every problematic decision of his was done entirely in isolation. If he thinks he’s absolutely right about something, there’s nothing more he needs to know.

We needed some help on the backend or a top-notch business analyst to make the requirements-gathering smoother. If you’re shorthanded on developers, then an analyst can work wonders to mitigate that problem — by freeing up developers from getting bogged down.

I love working directly with the business, so this has nothing to do with desire, it’s about efficiency.

A person with a passion for absorbing the business and documenting its needs can help everyone step up their game. A BA is a bridge of continuity and consistency between the team and the business, keeps things fluidly moving along — and can act in a QA capacity as well.

And by all means, include developers when meeting with customers.

On top of that, have the BA do knowledge-sharing sessions to enrich the understanding of everyone on the team. In that model, you’re progressing on all fronts and delivering what the business deserves.

That was essentially the case I made when I floated the idea of getting a BA.

He didn’t consider it for a second

What’s worse was his logic-free counter as to why:

I could be the BA — I could write up the requirements

That you could do something is meaningless when you’re not going to do that something. Working with Mike was like entering the twilight zone at times — as his thinking, perception, and lickety-split decisions were often devoid of reason.

In his unbound faith in his first thoughts, he was impervious to sound argument that required him to reconsider.

I took the job with the expectation of having my voice heard — and I made that clear.

Flippantly claiming, “I could be the BA” is not even in the same galaxy as delivering on “here’s what I think and here’s why.”

Time after time, I was ignored on anything that involved the bigger picture.

I helped interviewed several people for that 2nd Tableau position, and a couple of them were very-well suited for what I thought we needed most (someone with serious back-end and BI-stack experience — who could also do some Tableau). They wouldn’t have the skills of the guys they have now, but the demands of the department were far more spread out than dashboard reporting.

It’s extremely difficult to find people who do Tableau on their level and have the skills in the multiple areas that Mike and I cover. As I wrote in my “just wondering” email that delicately questioning Mike’s philosophy on resource utilization:

It’s great for us all to get exposure in the multiple areas we work in — but [these guys] are specialized in their skills for the same reason I am in mine or anyone else. By not utilizing that expertise in full, you lose a level of quality, consistency, and timeliness in development (on their end as well as the back-end).

Moreover, you lose the invaluable interaction that goes hand-in-hand with development between colleagues working on the same project. If done right, that’s where the cross-training comes into play best. Granted, following along and trying things out in Tableau is not the same as having the entire responsibility for a dashboard. I’m thrilled that I’ve had that opportunity (including the struggles I’ve had with it). That’s great stuff, but at what cost?

His response was not the least bit compelling, and that’s the way it was on almost everything I challenged him on — never countering with anything of substance:

Look at the difference in the level of thought in my email vs. his. He’s not any different on the phone (not when it comes to be challenged like this). He makes assertions, I make arguments:

An assertion is just a point of view, an opinion. An argument goes further. An argument is a point of view supported by reasons that demonstrate the view is a good one.

Had it been my call and I could only hire one person in this scenario (where I already have a Tableau expert and no pressing demands for dashboard development beyond that for now):

I’m gonna go with a person who gives me the most bang for my buck, right out of the gate . . .

None of this “should be able to” business.

Maybe there was something “above my paygrade” that I couldn’t see . . .

I allow for the possibility of gaps in my understanding — they don’t.

Even if there was — these guys still should have been looking at the entire picture to make sure that they had an accurate reading of resources needed.

After all — it is their job

So we got the 2nd Tableau expert and he’s awesome — and next thing ya know, they were pushing for a 3rd (a guy we interviewed who was also excellent). But I have no idea where this demand was coming from.

If you don’t have your “engine” in working order, it doesn’t matter how pretty your reports are.

We needed help — and along came a golden opportunity to get it.

A friend of mine in India asked me in mid-March if there might be some part-time work he could do at Elara. This guy would be a godsend. With his breadth of abilities and attention to detail, even 20 hours a week would have made a major impact.

We’d be robbing that resource at the rate he was asking, so unless there were obstacles that involved offshore work, it was a no-brainer.

Given the needs at the time, his 20 hours was far more valuable than 40 from any Tableau developer. But you could have easily had both and everything would have turned out fine.

Right on cue with Mike (in the immediacy in which he reacts to anything he’s dead certain about):

We don’t have the budget

COVID was coming on, so his response was somewhat understandable in that light. Then again, how you do square that “budget” claim with the fact that they were seriously considering hiring a third Tableau developer around that time?

That’s how everything was with Mike — as nothing had to jibe with anything else. In his mind, every assertion can exist in isolation, completely unaffected by the incongruity around it.

I raised this matter again on June 30th, and this time it wasn’t my friend in India who prompted it, I did.

I was buried in work and was in dire need of assistance. At that point, we’re not talking about predicting the needs down the road. We were right in the middle of the very thing that I was concerned about earlier in the year.

And once again, with the carelessness I had come to expect:

We don’t have the budget.

That resource would have been of enormous benefit to us on multiple fronts — for a drop in a bucket.

I don’t understand that math

And how can I take his claim seriously when he never put much thought into any decision of long-term impact (not in my dealings with him, anyway). Dave doesn’t have a full understanding of the department’s needs partly because Mike’s bulldozing mentality disguises it.

How does Dave not know that?

I told Regis when I met with him that there’s no way around the fact that Mike’s performance is a reflection on Dave’s. The only way that you could possibly not see what’s going on here — is that you don’t want to.

For Dave to fully recognize the problem, he has to recognize his failures as a leader.

he’s not the type

Why bother when you can just hire a PM and sweep the rest under the rug?

I find it amusing that the whole thing with Tableau is about driving decisions through insights into information — while flagrantly a mountain of information.

Mike is a pretty damn good at analysis — and probably Dave too.

But where’s the insight into your entire operation?

In my nearly two years at Elara, Dave never asked me a single question as to what I thought about things.

If I were in his shoes, I would know on instinct that you cannot rely on someone like Mike to paint an accurate picture of the needs.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that there was more going on than I realized about the demand for Tableau. Wouldn’t it be wise for Dave to inquire as to what I think we need most? You can always choose not to take the advice, but if you’ve got it — it just might provide some balance in examining the situation.

I was silently amused when Dave thanked me for working one weekend — having no clue that I’d been doing that all summer.

Nobody forced me to do that and I stand by my decision (even knowing that it cost me dearly on my goals and eventually my job). At the time, I thought it was the right thing to do.

You’d like to think that such dedication would warrant a modicum of consideration for how it factors into the story. In any case, it was an ill-advised decision that contributed to this problem of distorting the reality of the need.

In the thick of it all last summer, I can’t even tell you how many 12-15 hour days (and beyond) that I put in — every weekend and a few all-nighters to boot. That’s just not smart, for us or the business.

It creates more problems than it’s worth.

To Mike, it almost seems like a badge of honor to work that way — so by questioning his utilization of resources last July, it was like “complaining” in his eyes (as none of this was out of the norm for him).

To be sure, I’ve done spells of working like that throughout my career. But what happened here could have been easily prevented by hiring to meet the highest priority of need — not some grand vision for dashboard reporting that can wait for its full implementation in a rolling start.

Incredibly, after being so dead set on hiring more Tableau developers — they didn’t fully utilize them once they had ’em.

Had they done so — it’s still be there

Mike’s erratic style, mistakes, and occasionally senseless decisions — cost me in ways that it didn’t cost anyone else. I’m not suggesting that my burden was worse than the impact on the business — I’m simply saying that it was unique to my role on the team.

When Mike and Dave hired me in January 2019 — I was all they needed (though Mike still worked a ton of hours it seemed). But my workload was just fine for the first year or so. Mike’s insidious ego didn’t matter much in those days — it was just an annoyance that I mostly let slide in appreciation of his positive traits (of which they are many).

He spent a lot of hours answering my questions about web development and advised me in any way he could — which I greatly appreciated. But while he loves to teach, he’s not very teachable — at least not when it comes to matters of management.

They acted as though nothing had changed when our workload starting picking up in 2020. Dashboard reporting was all the rage — who bother looking any deeper for those insights you claim to care about?

So ya got one guy who’s dead certain on every lickety-split decision he makes — repeatedly shutting me down on every suggestion I made that challenged his calcified conclusions (no matter how delicately I delivered it).

And then there’s Dave — who asked me no questions and relied solely on the most haphazard decision-maker I’ve ever worked with.

Abigail would not have been impressed with these guys.

Should we have hired a BA or a more well-rounded developer instead of that 2nd Tableau expert? Was a Project Manager really necessary? Was there really a budget issue on the resource in India?

I’m not the one who acts he has all the answers — I’m just the guy who’s absolutely certain that these decisions warranted a great deal more thought.

If this fiasco doesn’t embarrass you as a company, what would?