The low-level anxiety of modern life

I’m now assigned to a new project that will go the next two or three years, and I’ve been on it a year already. We had our kick-off meeting this week, had two meetings prior to that, to discuss and align on how that would go with the smaller team, then I prepared mock flip-charts with lists of deliverables and proposed risks, and asked them to make sure it was right.

I got into the conference room two hours early and started lining up the flip-charts, to make sure they’d all fit on the walls, since I had about 18. The idea was to have the attendees write concerns, risks, whatever, on Post-its and stick them up on the flip-chart that corresponds to the functional area or phase.

I got the flip-charts that have adhesive on the back, but they flapped with the HVAC, so I had to get the blue painter’s tape to tape them up without damaging the paint.

I printed sets of the kick-off deck and placed them by the seats for the 30 attendees, put Post-its and pens out, even had time to make a couple press pots of coffee from Tanzania.

It went pretty much perfectly, which happens sometimes if you’re fussy and controlling. Controlling enough to ensure you create the right environment where people with different styles give you the information you need.

I logged more than 100 items in an Excel spreadsheet I stole from a former PM, called the RAID log. RAID stands for Risks, Actions, Issues, Dependencies. One worksheet for each! Many columns and values to rank severity, status, originator, owner, and so forth.

She came to help save a project that had slid a year, and brought with her a kind of humorless librarian attitude, of structure and rules. She used CAPS in her status report announcing THE PROJECT IS TURNING RED, and so forth. She was graying, wore no make-up, and tapped her pen softly on the desk when she was thinking, to punctuate a point.

She didn’t renew her contract, and a different PM took her place. He wore tattoos and didn’t tuck his shirt in, but talked fast and stood up in the middle of a steering committee that was going south and whipped out his project plan on the AV, dialed-down to the hour of specificity on estimates for release and completion, probably 1,000 lines of tasks, logic and dependencies. He got the conversation back on track (and the project).

Getting people in China to stop using email and spreadsheets and start entering information into a database isn’t as easy as you’d like it to be. Discussing with them what it is and what it needs to do just doesn’t work via email or phone. We broke down and had to start using the Telepresence Room.

Telepresence is expensive and dominated by the executives – meaning, it took a lot for us to get the rights to use the room because they tend to hog it.

And we’d have to do it after 5 PM to be on China time. That’s a great way to end your day: working a full eight or nine hours, then starting a two hour meeting to talk business process and system flows for accounting functions (with China).

You dial in through a phone and then it activates the video somehow, and there they are: five or six of these people we’ve been talking to for months, sitting in chairs right across from us at the same scale, in real time. The table is semi-circular, and the screens of the people in China complete the circle with an arc.

I got off the project. My last week on it, I attended an all-night session that started around 8 PM and went until 2 AM. We were good about taking breaks, and I got to see the crappy, broken street by my work that I walk every day, after nightfall.

I passed the Starbucks store across the street, and watched the employees putting the chairs on the tables as they mopped. They were setting up for the Christmas promotion, it was mid-November. Paper dioramas of happy people in scarves, signaling the bliss of holiday retail season and all the comforts of the season (warm milk, with sugar).

I looked down the side-street where the guy in the van lives and sleeps and thought, how ironic I’d get knifed on the same street I haunt during the day every day, and so I decided against it.

I drove home with the windows open to keep awake across the bridge, and saw the Chinese images on the screen behind my eyes, their gait and expressions as we talked about the system, and what it had to do.


About pinklightsabre

William Pearse publishes memoir, travel journals, poetry and prose, and lives in the Pacific Northwest.
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1 Response to The low-level anxiety of modern life

  1. rossmurray1 says:

    Now THAT’S a shout-out!


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