The Cut of Your Jib

When I took this contract at Bank of America, my first assignment was to shadow their resident reporting expert for a month. He was going on vacation and they had no one who could cover for him.

As he was tied into everything in that shop, this was a golden opportunity.

My mission was to nail down his processes so thoroughly that they would not even notice he was gone. With all the manual intervention involved, I had my work cut out for me.

I had about 30 pages of documentation by the time I was done — and I didn’t miss a beat.

Now they had two people tapped into their universe of reporting. Combine that with the “Interesting” moment that soon followed — and the stage was set for some serious strides.

One late Friday afternoon my manager swung by my desk and asked me to jump on a call. One of my colleagues was way behind on a project and he was going on vacation with his family in a week. I was asked if I could help out to see if we could finish this thing up before he left.

As I am always happy to assist, I gladly accepted.

Monday morning rolled around and I stopped by his desk to tell him I was available to do anything he needed. Before I went off to look into his requests, he gave me an overview of what was currently in place.

Right away I saw what the real problem was — he was using a tool that was overcomplicating his objective.

He clearly knew the tool better than I did, but skill level and appropriate use do not always go hand-in-hand. People like to use what they are comfortable with, and I have been guilty of doing the same thing a time or two. The problem in this case is that he had been beating a dead horse for far too long, and in so doing he put the project in jeopardy.

I was not about to raise my concerns right off the bat, because I felt my place was to refrain from judgment and just do whatever he asked.

As the week went by we were not getting much accomplished, and I was starting to have some serious doubts. Even with solid skills in the tool he was using, it would be difficult for anyone to decipher the process in the time we had.

I requested a meeting with my manager to express my trepidation. She was receptive and even admitted that she had silently questioned his approach as well. I proposed that I tell him that given the time constraints and my novice skill level in the tool — that I would have to take a different direction while he was gone.

The guy was goin’ on vacation and he already felt bad enough as it was — no need to rub salt in the wound by telling him that he took the wrong approach from the start.

This is a perfect example of how to be truthful and tactful at the same time.

But even with the most diplomatic effort and truest of intentions, I knew he wouldn’t happy with that. I did everything I could to accommodate that concern, but I’ve got a job to do.

With my manager on board with my approach to handling the situation, I was pretty confident we would work everything out. My colleague did not share that sentiment.

By the time he returned a week later I had most of the project done. He could have done the same had he let go of his original approach long ago. Instead of thanking me, he was unhappy that all of his work had been scrapped.

The users were thrilled — as not only had I provided the report specified, but also a way for them to query the base data on their own. Anyone’s pride would be hurt by losing a project and someone else making it a success, but what matters most is that the users’ requirements were met.

That was not what he had in mind when he continued working on his process even after the users signed off on what I delivered.

He stayed up all night and sent out an email the next morning telling everyone that he had finished the report per the original spec. It was way too late by then, as the users were perfectly happy with results that exceeded their expectations.

I felt sorry for him as he tried to press them to use his report just because they had agreed to some baseline requirement.

Turning that project around does not necessarily mean that I’m smarter than him. I just took an objective look at what he was doing, and my direction freed me up from the complications he created for himself.

Rather than be transparent about his hurdles by asking for input, he kept his head down and plowed ahead. Week after week went by in team meetings, and I never heard him ask for any help. It took me all of 2 minutes to ascertain what his problem was, and I imagine others on the team could have done the same.

I doubt that he ever considered the situation I was in.

I didn’t ask to be involved in his project, but when my manager asks me for help, I am going to do whatever it takes to deliver. I did not seek to take over his project and had he been able to give me some specific tasks to help him succeed, I would have gladly done everything his way.

Since that didn’t happen, I had no choice but to scrap his work and start over — solely for the purpose of serving what was in the best interests of our customers.

His priorities were not in the right place, but he’s a good guy who just let things get out of control — and I know what that feels like. He didn’t even thank me for helping out, but I didn’t care — the customers’ satisfaction is all the thanks I need.

My concern was how all this would affect our ability to work together in the future, so I came up with a solution to that problem as well.

The very next time I needed some help in that tool that he was using, I stopped by to ask him for assistance. I could have gone to anybody on that team, but I sought his advice to help smooth things over by showing him some respect.

The fact that I received no such courtesy was irrelevant.

A person’s wounded pride has a way of acting out in a wholesale manner, so I was not offended anyway. What I cared about most was finding a way to repair the relationship, and respecting one’s skills is always a good place to start.

That year ranks with the best of my career — and it all started with my attitude in approaching in shadowing my colleague and embracing criticism when “Interesting!” came calling.

There was one other thing that happened on that contract that further illustrates just how apart I am from Mike’s mentality:

Right when I finished up another project, the PM returned from maternity leave to find that her reports were not laid out how she wanted. I just followed the BA’s requirement, so there was some kind of mix-up on their end.

Who cares?

It doesn’t matter how it happened — all that mattered is that the project manager didn’t get what she wanted. I asked her to come down to my desk so we could get it all ironed out.

I stayed up all night in office and had her reports retooled by morning.

Even though I had already done what I was asked to do — and had completed the project on time, there were other considerations.

Why make a big thing out of it with blaming the BAs and put the project off another week? It took 2-3 hours with the PM that afternoon and all-nighter to knock it out.