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Chapter 8

Tim Malone does the wrong thing and Anna’s project starts to go wrong

 

 

In the midst of the time that Anna and Max spent happily playing with the gadgets and getting their communication device working Anna asks Max to borrow a programmer from the IT team to work on the new till software modifications.

Max arranges a meeting with the resource pool manager in the IT section that looks after programmers. This pool manager plays only a small part in our story so we will not allow ourselves to be diverted by attending a meeting with this person. We will however consider the pool manager’s role and the nature of the loan model of project resourcing.

The IT section in SpendItNow contains a wide range of specialist people, people who understand the operating system of the ancient minicomputer holding the stock system; Unix programmers who can write the bizarre treatises called instructions; java people who know about beans and coffee shops and brews; network people who can track data across tracts of hardware and finally hardware people with pliers and screwdrivers.

(How many software engineers does it take to change a light bulb? It can’t be done - it’s a hardware problem)

Circulating this jungle of wild animals (aka highly paid experts in bizarre techniques) are any number of project managers trying to get things done. They are like hunters in khaki trying to bag a programmer.

The resource pool managers are the intermediaries.

The specialists are known as resources or human resources and are grouped into resource pools. As technology frequently changes, these pools are pretty randomly assembled so that each pool has a range of specialists. Some are in very short supply, some are very highly specialised. Some are able to do all sorts of different things. Some are downright lazy.

The project managers find the relevant resource pool manager and explain the type of work they need doing, when it needs to be done and the characteristics of the people they need to join their team.

The pool manager tries to match requirements to availability. There are never enough people to go round, so prioritised projects, in theory, get resources allocated to them over non-prioritised projects. Actually project managers with powerful voices or good negotiating techniques tend to get what they want as the prioritisation rule most common is: he who shouts loudest, gets. Project managers become adept in finding ingenious reasons why their project should get the best people and why they were unable ask for them more in advance.

The IT specialists get loaned to the project teams sometimes on a full time basis and sometimes for a part of their time. A loan might be full time from 2nd June to 30th July or 50% of time from 13th February to end of May. It might be Mondays and Tuesdays throughout March.

These programmers get their instructions from and report directly to their project managers. They join the project teams for periods of time. This approach works well when the project managers have a good understanding of the nature of the work and can sensibly plan, instruct and monitor the specialist’s time.

For this reason you often find this loan model being used amongst the technical projects in IT where project managers tend to grow out of the specialist areas and understand what it going on.

When the individual’s contribution to the project comes to an end the resource is returned to the pool and goes off to a new assignment. In addition to this the resources have a background work load made up of keeping in touch with technical developments, playing computer games, mending mistakes they made on recently completed projects and building robots or kit cars.

Max, backed up by the pool manager for cash register specialists, manages to convince Tim Malone to do some programming work on the standard cash register software so that it will accept the transmitted input from the portable barcode device.

Tim is loaned for a few weeks on a part-time basis to the project team and finds himself getting instructions directly from Anna.

Anna explains what they need to do and Max and Tim work together on a rough specification for the temporary changes to the till software. The idea is that Tim will make the changes and set up a test site with the Firstborn e-Trolley in the IT department to get the software working. Tim likes this. He likes prototyping because it is a great deal more informal than those dreary functional and detailed specifications he is used to. He also likes the idea of ordering a load of pizzas and cokes on the company to test the system out, after all he will need real produce to check it out and who will dispose of those? And finally as this system is only a prototype he doesn’t need to write a huge long and boring document explaining how it all works so that other people can figure it all later. Tim calls this ‘being agile’.

Tim starts work on the modified till system. Max wheels Firstborn round to Tim’s cubicle causing much merriment en-route through the building. Max actually plans to do this at a time when many people will see him. He and Anna decide that a little internal publicity will be a good thing.

‘Reports are bound to get back to Bob’, says Anna.

Sue has been busy talking to market research organisations as the company does not have its own internal market research group. She comes up with surprisingly high market research budgets that include money for a mobile team to set the tests going in each store. Anna moves some money from the hardware section and the contingency of the budget into the testing area to cover the market research and realises that she is still in good shape to come in under budget with the project. She is glad of the savings on the e-Trolley purchases that came courtesy of the trolley supplier’s handy loan.

Sue agrees with the cheaper of the two market research organisations what they are trying to achieve and the background the project. She explains the timing and data they will need to form part of their end of project report.

The market research people go off to start designing questionnaires. Anna realises that she will have very little contact with the market research people on the ground and that the relationship between the project and the market research company is very similar to that between the project and Stephanie Wong’s team. This reminds her to check up on Steph’s progress. Unfortunately she doesn’t get round to it for some time.

Tim Malone has very little interest in anything that doesn’t come in a shrink wrapped Xbox, a pizza carton or aluminium can, plus it is not unusual in Tim’s experience to be loaned out to a project team long before the work on the last project is finished. A project manager pleads with him to finish off some other work before starting on the next job but Tim does eventually drag himself away from other work to start on these pesky till modifications.

Almost immediately there is a panic over a bug in some work Tim helped on some time ago and he has to jump onto that for a few days. Meanwhile Firstborn sits idly by Tim’s desk collecting his old pizza boxes and drinks cans.

He just gets really into the till modifications and starts to enjoy himself when, causing no surprise to him at all, another project manager drags him off the e-Trolley project to work on something else. This project manager uses his seniority to pull rank to divert Tim off his work. This project manager clearly is in a panic and doesn’t really know what he wants. This project manager has sneaked round to Tim and not gone through the resource manager but is so senior he dared not refuse.

Tim, like all IT human resources, does a weekly timesheet to inform his pool management of the work he has done.

Every project is given a job number and Tim duly reports the time he has spent on each project. The system was written by a programmer many moons ago and it even includes job numbers for illness, holidays and so on.

Tim and most of his colleagues are not that great at filling in timesheets, they hate the whole idea. As far as they are concerned these timesheets take time to complete (there is no line for allocating time to filling out timesheets) and then disappear down a black hole. Very occasionally there are pie charts stuck up on a pool manager’s wall showing how they spent their time across projects and programmes but no one takes much notice.

Perhaps Tim and his colleagues would feel better about timesheets if they thought they had some use or value to offer. A few programmers had devised a little application to fill out a timesheet automatically at complete random but very few people had the nerve to actually use it. The fact they had found the time to work out such a programme without reporting it proved the worthlessness of the system.

So it is not unusual when Tim sends two timesheets to his manager covering week commending 7th and 14th May on the 23rd May and then only because he was reminded by a general email asking everyone to do timesheets.
The resource manager forwards the timesheets to relevant project managers but this takes a couple of days and it is therefore nearly the end of May before Anna notices that Tim has recorded no time on her project. She checks with Max who checks with Tim.

Anna goes ballistic when she discovers that another project manager has stolen her resource away from her project onto another project without discussing it with her or the resource manager.

To make matters worse the project management thief is Jason who has been given another project to look after. Jason is finding running a real project rather harder than explaining project management theory and in a panic grabbed Tim to do some work. Tim accepted Jason’s request ever mindful of Jason’s family connection with the illustrious CEO.

She goes straight to Bob with this problem which is a little over the top but it does make sure that it doesn’t happen again. She understands how influence helps make Jason’s voice sound a lot louder than it is. Anna introduces Bob to the Framework and they learn the best practice method for dealing with this type of problem. Bob issues a directive to all functional teams and resource pool managers on the topic of loans and delegations and reporting.

Both Jason and Max see a new side of Anna which is rather intimidating especially to Jason who caused the problem despite being the one who should definitely know better. Jason, who gets the rough edge of Anna’s tongue over this, is at first defensive but eventually goes away with his tail between his legs. Anna sees Jason in a new light as being much more vulnerable than she had imagined and this of course attracts her to him but in a way that prevents her showing it.

Tim finds himself working full time on the cash register changes and being given overtime if he needs it. Actually the work is quite trivial and easy to do so he has a prototype up and running in a few days.

Everyone tells him what a genius he is when he demonstrates the system working later that week. He spends a few more days, eating free pizza, testing the system, making it work unnecessarily faster and playing multi-user games with friends in IT.

 

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Chapter 8

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