The head on the horse

A few months ago, I began a brief consulting assignment for a guy I found quite perplexing.  He is the sort of guy that thinks very highly of himself, yet also surrounds himself with consultants, many of which he strings along from one part of the organization to another as he himself moves around.  After one of our first meetings, I’d have said he had a big head, but I didn’t need to because he did so nicely by referring to himself as the “head on the horse.”

I’m not really sure how I kept a straight face (or maybe I didn’t and he just didn’t see my brow pinch in consternation), especially because he squeezed it into the conversation six times in an hour.  Imagine a few variations of this:

“I didn’t really want to take on this project, but the boss needed someone that could really get it done, and he knows I’m the head on the horse.  I’ll get things done, whether people like it or not.  I mean, this project really needs a head on a horse, and that’s me.”

“My professional life is really looking up,” I thought to myself at the end of that painful hour.  Then I began my work.

One of my tasks was to update a stakeholder “molecule diagram,” which had been drafted by another consultant that came before me but then left the company mysteriously.  A “molecule diagram” is sort of what you’d think it’d be, but applied in a way that is somehow both superfluous and just plain stupid.  In this case, company departments were named in circles randomly placed on a large page, connected with lines of varying length to a central circle that represented the project (the project that needed the head on the horse).  Then, individual stakeholders were shown in smaller circles that spider-ed out from the department circles.  I can only imagine if it were a model of a real thing, it’d be some kind of free-will-stealing, integrity-thieving, crazy-making substance we’d all best stay far away from.  Even as a poorly chosen representational thing, it had that effect on me.

One of these days, I will figure out what kind of work I can do that won’t leave me feeling like I’m pimping myself out so someone else can get rich selling the same ideas to the same client every few months.  In the meantime, I’m open to suggestions…

It’s been nice interfacing with you

Last week, in my role as consultant extraordinaire (*sarcastic cough*), I was introduced to a man from another firm, who is working in a different capacity on the same “corporate initiative” I am assigned to.  It will be my role to interview, investigate, analyze and document the perceptions and desires of the stakeholders that will be impacted by the aforementioned initiative.  The purpose of my information gathering is to locate “levers and barriers,” to craft an appropriate messaging strategy, to evaluate the organization’s readiness for change, and generally advise the manager of the initiative, who refers to himself as the “head on the horse,” as to how he can best use the information I prepare to essentially cram some new software down the throats of the people that actually perform the organization’s work.

I am creating many “deliverables;” things like a stakeholder inventory, a perception map, a stakeholder management plan, a change management plan, and a communications management plan, among other things.

The other consultant is implementing the new software, and I met with him to discuss what kinds of reports might be available from the system which could eventually be used to illustrate to even higher levels of management in the organization how well “things” are going.  In closing, he handed me his business card, shook my hand, and told me he enjoyed interfacing with me.  I couldn’t tell if he realized with regret how ludicrous it was to say such a thing and kicked himself for falling prey to an extreme case of tech jargon disease, or if he is so far gone that it was a natural term for him to use.  I did manage to keep a straight face (I think.)

 

Places as names for persons

Friday night, at my local watering hole, I met a guy named Israel.  Israel works at a chain pasta place, another fine establishment in the strip mall which houses the karaoke bar with the bartender who knows what I want before I open my mouth and waves at me when we drive past each other in the neighborhood.  Israel seemed jittery and anxious when I was introduced to him by the Norwegian guy we call Axl Rose.  Israel and Axl didn’t really know each other, but Israel had seen Axl sing a metal song the last time he was in.  They spent the first five minutes of conversation trying to name the song Axl had sung.  When they finally agreed it must have been “Symphony of Destruction” by Megadeth, Axl headed back in for a rendition of something Metallica, and Israel explained that he only recently learned of the existence of my favorite people-watching venue.

“I can’t believe I’ve been here like five years and had no idea about this place.”

“Yeah, it’s kind of hidden.  And I guess it’s not like you expect to find it between Trader Joe’s and the martial arts studio.”

“It’s great, though….  I’m a singer….  I sing in bands a lot….”  He paused between each short sentence to suck on the end of his cigarette, which was wedged too close to where his first and middle fingers meet.

“Except I’m not really in a band right now….  So, I’m not really singing much….  I mean, except in the shower….  Everyone does that….  Sings in the shower….”  His eyes darted away from mine whenever he realized I was looking at him, which I was doing the entire time he was speaking, so I don’t think he actually looked at me for more than a tenth of a second.

“But it’s not the same in the shower….  I mean, no one’s really listening….  It’s different than being on a stage….  When people are looking at you….  And since I haven’t been on stage for awhile….”

“Man, last time I was here….  I was really nervous….  At first….  Then it got better….  So, now I’m back….  Cool place….”

Had Israel been the only person named after a place that I encountered that night, I might not have thought much of it.  But earlier, I had done a double take when I saw the name Nevada splayed in large font on the flat-screen that ensures even completely inebriated people that don’t know the lyrics to a song can sing along anyway.  It reminded me of a handful of other people I know who were named after places.

When I was in high school, there was a family that named all their boys after cities that start with the letter ‘D.’  One from Texas, one from Colorado, and one from Ohio (I suppose they could’ve done worse with major cities from Michigan or Iowa).  We used to wonder what prompted this particular pattern – did the parents travel a lot and just happen to be in those places when their sons were conceived, or was there no meaning to it at all?  I never found out but I still wonder.

A former co-worker of mine named his son after the Vermont ski resort where he met his future wife while snowboarding.  So, that makes six regular people I now know of who were named after places I would classify as rather uncommon: Dallas, Dayton, Denver, Israel, Nevada, and Stratton.  I guess that’s one way to decrease the chance your kid will have the same name as someone else in his or her class…

In case of elevator entrapment…

Safety is big at my workplace.  Really big.  It’s the kind of company that is highly regulated, and subject to all sorts of safety standards, as it should be.  In the small hallway where I work, there are 8 cubes, 4 on each side of the walkway.  Four of them have large signs hanging from the ceiling above them with a big red cross against a white background.  That is because there are four safety monitors in my immediate vicinity.  Should we have an emergency, they would perform a variety of pre-assigned and practiced actions, including sweeping the building to make sure everyone evacuated and assisting any persons that may not be able to get out of the office under their own power.  I feel very safe at work.  Except, perhaps, when I’m in the elevator.

Upon entering the elevator in our building, I am greeted with this sign.

Aside from the brilliant, though I”m sure unintentional, example of personification, I think my favorite part of the sign is the portrayal of an elevator gone haywire with the poor little arrow clearly in a panic as it vibrates between floors four and five.  However, we have yet to get to the instructions…

I have a feeling that anyone entrapped by the elevator would likely attempt all of the above instructions without needing a reminder, but who knows?  Whenever I ride the elevator, I play in my mind a little scene with an unfortunately paranoid and anxious person reading the list aloud while thinking to himself, “Is this a life threatening emergency?  Am I equipped with a cell phone?  Stay calm?  Who the hell do you think you are telling me to stay calm?!” Of course, this is done while repeatedly mashing the elevator alarm button, which instruction seems designed to increase the anxiety of the entrapped.  Maybe “Stay calm,” should be the first step?

Note: Apologies for the crappy images again – I just can’t seem to take clear pictures in a hurry, and as I’ve mentioned before, I hesitate to get caught taking pictures hence I be perceived as some sort of corporate spy…

More Ridiculousness

I have noticed a lot of ridiculous things lately, and have shared them in my very sporadic recent posts.  Today I found something particularly ludicrous.  I was studying for a project management certification exam I plan to take in the near future.  Part of the requirement for this particular certification is that you have to have 35 contact hours of recent project management education.  To fulfill that, I signed up for the cheapest online version of an exam prep program I could find, because the exam itself is expensive enough.  The test is multiple choice, though it is surprisingly difficult for a multiple choice test.  So, along with my online “course,” I get to take some practice tests.  Most of the scenarios begin with some fairly meaningless scene-setting, such as…

Your company, an oil giant, is implementing a new software system.  As project manager, which of the following would be inputs you would consider when defining scope…

You nephew is studying for the PMP exam and asks you for help understanding how to manage procurements.  Which of the following would not be steps he would take…

Your employer has chosen you to manage an extremely high profile project.  After the completion of  the first phase of the project, you are running on schedule but realized an overachieving team member has implemented more complex features than requested, resulting in higher costs than planned.  The first thing you do is…

And then this one:

Your company has been contracted by your country’s military to create a prosthetic finger for a General who lost a digit during combat. As this project is especially unique and custom in nature, you would maximize the odds of the General accepting your deliverable by:

Really?

I think maybe the fortune cookie writer has found a new job…

Puzzling Sign

Again, my day job brings me in contact with writing that needs help…

I apologize for the fuzzy image – I thought I might look weird taking a photograph in front of the security guard’s desk and it looks like I rushed a bit too much – the text is below for those of you that can’t read this.

———————–

NOTICE

Check “IN” with Officer if you have a

Guide Dog and/or service animal.

NO pets allowed on premises.

———————–

Amusing business writing

I started a new gig this week, consulting at a very big corporation.  It’s been close to a decade since I worked in a large corporate environment, but I spent enough time there early in my career to know what to expect.  I haven’t been surprised, though I am noticing little things I might not have in the past.  Not sure if that’s because I’ve been writing so much more myself, or it’s just my quirky sense of observation.  I have spent my first few days reading various documents, and yesterday, I stumbled on these definitions in a training presentation…

Issues

An issue is defined as a situation, problem, or an activity that has happened or is happening which impacts upon the [project]. A project issue needs to be addressed, either immediately or during the project.

Issue: While crossing freeway I got hit by a bus

Risks

A risk is something that may happen in the future and have a positive or negative effect on the project.

Risk: When crossing the freeway I might get hit by a car and get hurt.

Mitigation: Find the nearest pedestrian bridge