Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Opportunity Lost

I am typing this out of complete irritation on what happened over the last few days at work. A Singapore client, who had recently shifted away from us, came back with one last request for an urgent requirement. A website needed to be revamped, scheduled to be completed by July 2nd. Since the new support team based out of Beijing would need some time to ramp up, they emailed us with whatever requirement information they had.

The first email arrived on Thursday the 21st of this month. We promptly had a conference call to discuss the feasibility of the changes and to hash out our initial doubts. The call went well and we were informed about the rough timelines targeted. The stakeholder from the client side asked us to explore and provide options on different approaches to quickly get this website revamped.

Our Project manager promised to send the estimates either the same day or on Monday, the 25th. Within the next 4 hours, I went through the style guide, wire frame and specs that had been provided and came up with a reasonably fair estimate. Again, to explain the estimation techniques followed by people here I would need to dedicate an entire post here. Anyways, I was open for any change. The estimation went for a total of 11 revisions in the next two days. Every time they wanted me to revise, the request was to increase the man days. I am quoting my manager here - “Can you please make the coding and unit testing as 31 days instead of 22?”

This approach defeats the whole purpose of estimation. He never really tells me what he fears about the project when I ask him and now, I don’t even know what his real intention is – does he want to take up this project or not? I personally, would never even think of letting a project like this pass by, especially when there are over a dozen resources warming the bench already.

While things were at this state, next arrived the big blow. It was decided to get this reviewed by another project manager. Trust me this “other guy” is a real scumbag. The only credential he has to himself is that he was actually an employee of this client company in Singapore. As expected, he let his whims and fancies to cut loose and started babbling. He felt the already bloated estimate was too “optimistic” and was so confident that it can never be completed as per our estimate. Now that hurts. But what hurts more is the way the rest of the ass holes swayed their head in acceptance.

I usually reserve a separate worksheet for jotting down the assumptions and to point out the questions if any. It is a common practice followed in all estimations. He looked at that and said you may first have to clarify all these points before you can send the actual effort estimate. When informed that the estimate is already overdue, his reaction was fantastic. To quote him exactly – “So what? They sent the request last Thursday, right? You can even reply after this Thursday. Who cares? …”

Who cares??? I am like – “Goddamnit I care! … What has gone into him?” Does this dipshit not realize the phase we are going through? We could at least cut on some operational costs for the next couple months.

After almost a week since the initial request came, the only reply that went from our side was this –
“We have a few assumptions and questions. Please arrange for a conf call. We can then prepare the estimates.”

SAD! PATHETIC! – I felt like screaming.
It has been three days since and there has been no reply from her.

God, I miss my previous company in this aspect. Those guys were smart and encouraged me in that front. Not even in the faintest dreams can I see them letting this slip through. They would have devoured this opportunity.

Maybe I am wrong in understanding this whole situation. Maybe the client was testing the waters. Maybe all she wanted was an estimate to benchmark with. But STILL, there was at least some chance for us to get some billable work for a few weeks.

The point I would like to stress here is – WE NEVER EVEN TRIED. We missed this one right under our nose. And I hate it when I come to think that I could not do anything about it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

La Cucina

A couple of weeks before, our office held an event – La Cucina – a “No Fire, No Heat” cookery competition. Teams of 3 members had to nominate themselves and prepare any number dishes within an hour without using fire or heat in any form.

On the last day for nominations, out of nowhere my friends Joseph (aka Joe), Dinesh and I decided to “file our nominations”. We desperately needed a team name and a theme. We decided to prepare some nut and fruit recipes and called our team the Chipmunks. (After Alvin and the Chipmunks)

The competition was right after Election Day, giving us 1 full day to prepare. In our case it was 1 full day to sleep and while away time (after casting our vote, of course!). The only preparation we did was to Google some recipes later that night. But Joe had called upon his friend, who has studied catering, for some ideas.

Thursday – competition day. Ideas on recipes to prepare - I came to office with a few; Joe had lots; Dinesh had just one idea – to run away.

There was not much work for any of us (same as the last few weeks) and we sat down to discuss and plan. Joe was his usual self - started babbling – he suggested that we prepare some 6 or 7 dishes with some ice cream, milk shakes. Dinesh and I quickly plugged his mouth and brought him back to reality. I made one point clear – We cannot impress by making tasty food; if at all we had a chance, it is by a clean presentation. After some sensible discussion we settled with the following items to prepare:

Cheese Balls using nut powder.
A lemon drink with some mint
A decorative vegetable salad
A fruit salad

We went out shopping during lunch. The weather was considerate enough to not give us sunstroke, but was so mean to take us to the verge of it. We came back poorer, tired and drenched in sweat. But the competition was in the evening, so we just had some time to prepare some pamphlets. I prepared a menu card, giving our dishes some names and some goofy “facts” about chipmunks.

Pulling out sufficient copies of our menu and wearing our backpacks loaded with groceries and fruits, we entered the arena. The event organizers verified our ingredients list – the rules do not permit any alcohol, pre-cut vegetables/fruits etc.

Dinesh and I started with the mint cooler and cheese balls leaving our Michelangelo (Joe) to carve and sculpt his masterpiece. I constantly kept cleaning our table and ensured we did not make a mess. Joe was unstoppable as he went on to prepare the fruit salad.

We then cleared the table and just when we had the last 10 minutes, started laying the table cloth, napkins and the silverware and started arranging the dishes. Our presentation looked really good.

A few of our colleagues took a lot of photographs, but we later realized that these people had taken valiant efforts to portray their consummate skills in blurred photography.

Below is our menu and a photograph.

Chipmunks Menu

Monday, May 18, 2009

Training and Knowledge Transfer sessions with the Chinese

For the last 2 weeks we were providing training and knowledge transfers to a team of engineers from Beijing. These people would be supporting one of the major accounts that we were supporting till now.

The team comprised of 4 engineers who arrived to the ‘warm’ welcome of the Chennai summer. Not used to such conditions, they found it a real challenge to make it to the office building after getting out of the car. They saw to it that they never went out during the day time. They got their lunch delivered and served at one of the conference rooms.

I had to do a KT for 2 systems and train a couple of them. They both appeared very friendly and kind. I could sense a fair amount of nervousness, but that is reasonable given the fact that they have not worked in .Net before and also do not have much knowledge about the business. They spoke in low voices and struggled hard to understand our accent which by the way was mutual.

The girl to whom I initially started the training could not follow what I was saying and I had to slow down while I spoke. But still it appeared as if I was difficult for her to follow, so I started writing down while talking. She was able to understand better now and that is how the remaining sessions went by. Almost an entire notepad was over within the next few days. After each session she borrowed my notes and copied them over.

As per plan, I explained everything I knew about the system and emphasized on areas of caution where issues were faced frequently. Also, I gave them the list of items that are pending or partially completed and items that have been completed but are in User Testing status. The overall training went smooth and everyone was happy. The girl to whom I did the knowledge transfer gave me a small present – like a souvenir – a Weifang butterfly kite with some terrific artwork. I liked it and it was so nice of her.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Why so many different coins?

An interesting topic came up in today's tea-time chat with my colleagues. It all started when the tea shop vendor hesitated to take the new 10 rupees coin. Not having any other cash we had to convince him for a few minutes and finally he took it though a little bit reluctantly. I don’t blame him, it was a Friday and my friends and I were dressed in our weekly ragged casuals which made us look all the more suspicious.

 But anyways in an effort to forget the damage caused to our egos, we discussed about the government and even better – the RBI and about how many different coins they have introduced in the last few years. I had been outside India for the better part of the last three years and had missed to witness the release of many of these coins. 

The more recently minted 1 and 2 rupee(s) coins are really funny; with some really smooth hand gestures imprinted in them; gestures that are more commonly used by people to indicate that they would be using the bathroom to do the one or the two.

 Apart from embarrassments such as the one that happened to us tea-shop owner, different kinds of coins for the same denominations would only make it difficult for people who are visually impaired to keep track of. I really do not know what would cause the RBI to mint such different coins in a short span of time.

Project Separation

Similar to how things are in many cases in the industry right now, our company, which is a captive center, lost another account. The client account, an insurance company based out of Singapore, which recently was sold out of the parent corporate company, decided to get its systems supported from another company in Beijing.

Though a lot of reasons are attributed towards this decision, which was so suddenly announced, I can surely tell one thing with a lot of confidence – the decision was not based on any poor performance from our side. There were no loose ends in any delivery or in quality and the managers and stakeholders were clearly pleased and satisfied with the services.

There were corporate political reasons beyond the control of the managers at the client side and the shift happened. Now came the phase – project separation. This was a new experience for me. As an individual many times, I have moved around different projects and twice totally different companies. But never have I been a part of an account getting shifted. So after having been done with wo9rrying about what was coming next, a part of me was just curious and excited to see how this whole separation thing goes through; and it sure had a lot of comical moments.

Our delivery manager called upon a meeting to announce this to much of all our surprise.
MOM and takeaways after the meeting:
1. Singapore client is gone. (What the …? Really?)
2. They are shifting their projects to a company in Beijing, China (Yeah, All I care…)
3. We would need to do a knowledge transfer to this Chinese firm (Oh shit!)
4. The shift is only due to the corporate decision at the client end, not us. (Hmmm…)
5. And don’t worry, there are some projects in the pipeline, so you will all be settled soon (Lets see about that)

We came out talking to each other, as usual, making jokes to hide our surprise. In a subsequent meeting, the plan was revealed:

1. People from the Chinese vendor are already at the Singapore office and are receiving KT.
2. The coming week they would be at our office and would require us to do an extensive knowledge transfer and training session for 2 weeks.
3. During this 2 weeks, any production issue, would be primarily supported by us and the new vendor would be secondary support
4. The 2 weeks after that, we would go to secondary support mode and they would be providing primary support.

The plan looked okay to us, given the fact that we were never given any training on the systems and had to work our way up. Also, I strongly believe that any team with some decent technical background can easily support the current client applications.

We were now preparing for the KT. The stakeholders from the client end had prepared a reasonable schedule and we reviewed it. After highlighting a few points we accepted that. Things looked fine till now, but soon turned around.

A couple days before the scheduled arrival of the team from the new vendor, we were called upon and instructed NOT to give a good KT. We were advised to even misguide them. It appeared so stupid to me and a few others. Why should we do such a thing? And when we asked, the answer given was that this is a waste of time. If we were training a resource within our company then it makes sense, but why should we train someone else?

That was OUR next question, why should we?, if we are not going to do a good job? After all we are still going to be in the same business aren’t we? There are very good chances for us to cross path in the future. It is sheer foolishness to burn bridges.

While this was going through, there came another instruction to be extremely pessimistic in our estimations. While it makes sense to give out estimates with some extra buffer, there was one really simple task that was estimated at 20 man days! It would have hardly taken a developer 4 hrs to complete the work. All right, I agree that we have to be cautious; maybe we could add some buffer for that. But even then, how can one explain the 20 man days thing? 

And when I asked the manager, who proposed this oversized estimate about this, he simply kept telling that this is a task that could cause a lot of other impacts and hence needs a lot of analysis. What the hell? I wonder what these sudden impacts would be which pops up just now and not till just the day before until when we had taken up similar tasks and completed even without sending an estimate.

I just could not avoid arguing with him on this one until I got a convincing answer. Now come on – I am not an all innocent, never utter a lie kind of prick; but certainly I would need myself to be able to defend the situation. And when we send such an estimate to a client whom, btw, we have meticulously trained on getting his ass kissed with each project, shit is bound to hit the ceiling, for sure!

And on top of all this, if we tell him the reason for the high estimate, which is as flimsy as a wet toilet paper, it certainly is not going to be taken well. The counter argument is that after all he is a client whom we have already lost, what is there to gain, why should we impress? 
I don’t want to please or impress him, but what about our dignity of work? Okay, forget the dignity shit, what if we get to a point where we may need to work with him again?

After all this gawky behaviour by my immediate manager and some people above him, I realized that such client separations are not new just to me, it was totally new to them too.

I really hate it when managers take some instructions too wrongly into their heads and overdo and overreact. Maybe I am wrong in my thoughts, maybe I should learn to be as dumb and unreasonable as this moronic manager I am working with. I am curious to know how such project closures are handled elsewhere...