He Tasks Me
This post is dedicated to The Boss whoever it* may be. Ed.
It happened on a work day. (Holy fuck. Is that the scariest opening ever or what?)
It was the arrival of a package that prompted the fun. The boss stopped everything he was doing. Ooh, a package had arrived.
Must. Open. Now.
His fleshy, grubby and unwashed digits picked up the box and it rotated in his massive NFL-style steroid-induced mitts. A piece of gooey food substance jiggled in his beard as he moved.
“Oh look,” he said. “I got something for you.”
Inside? You guessed it. New business cards for my department, the department where he always claimed I was in charge and had autonomy.
The cards were emblazoned with his name. Not mine. And underneath, the business title was printed. “Manager.”
Some time later he indicated with an explosion of gas that he had a “task” for me.
All hail the task!
Continue reading →
For the boss: I’m here to help
Pinhead bosses, perhaps intelligent in other aspects of their of their lives, become cripplingly stupid in the workplace. I theorize it is because the greed and power centers of their brain become so enlarged and aroused that they squeeze the thinking part right out.
Even the most mundane tasks, ones that you and I take for granted, can loom like a Death Star in that wide open galaxy of space they call a brain.
Boss: (whining) We’re not sell any of the THX-1138 widgets!
Employee: That’s because you never listed them for sale on the website.
It’s not their fault, really. They’re too busy doing important stuff like telling you what to do, like micromanaging how many rubber bands or pieces of tape you use. They’re only human and can only do so much!
That’s where I come in. I’ve decided to do the mature thing. I’m going to take the high road and forgive their foibles. I’m going to try to help.
Continue reading →
Project estimating: You want it when?
My boss used to give me projects. Lots of them. That was his specialty. It was pretty much the entire basis of our relationship. Him telling me what he wanted all day long. Delicious.
As a web site programmer, I pretty much had to “invent” a solution for every single thing he asked. No two tasks were ever exactly the same. The process was simple. Imagineer a solution, plan it, then do it making any necessary adjustments along the way.
Of course, the boss wanted to know up front exactly how long it would take. And that is where estimating came in.
Bosses love estimates. They may not understand the magic of what you do or how to do it themselves, but estimates are something they can understand. Then they can make “management decisions” based on what their “gut” tells them. Again, this is done without the luxury of actually knowing how you do what you do.
Let’s take a look at a typical example:
Boss: I want the web site to email customers a different email depending on if they order product A, B, or C.
Programmer: That’s easy enough. We’ll replace the standard order confirmation email with one based on what they order.
B: Great. How long will that take?
P: Unknown. It depends on several things. You need to give me a detailed project specification sheet (AKA “spec”). What will the emails say? What happens if a customer orders two or more of those products?
That’s usually where the process breaks down because, of course, the boss isn’t going to give you any of those damn things. He just wants to know how long it will take. Asking follow-up questions regarding your understanding of the task just makes you a pain in the ass.
Then, once you do give him an estimate, comes the inevitable follow-up question: What day will it be done?
P: It’ll take about an hour.
B: So you’ll have it done by Friday then?
P: That I cannot say.
B: You just said it will take one hour! That’s plenty of time to have it done by Friday!
Sure, but that means absolutely nothing about what day it will be done. For some reason, bosses seem to have a real problem grasping such a simple concept.
It works like this. You, the boss, control my entire day. You pull me off task to produce reports, work on other tasks, answer phone calls, drive downtown to pick up your mail, work the retail counter, ship packages, and attend bullshit staff meetings where you expound on motivational topics like we can all be fired, you make no money, and how you browbeat a poor elderly couple who run a hotel into accepting half their normal rate because times are hard. (True story.)
The math is simple and works like this: A one hour project (assuming that’s a valid estimate) will take three months if I’m given five minutes a week to work on it. Actually, probably longer, since there is overhead associated with switching on and off tasks so much.
A good analogy for illustrating “task switching overhead” is painting a wall. You have to get the color of paint needed, open it, set up your equipment and grab a step ladder.
Which method of painting do you think is more efficient?
- Paint an entire wall one color then move on to the next.
- Paint 5% of a wall one color, then switch to another wall in a different color, paint 5%, then return to the original wall. Repeat ad infinitum. (Add about 10 minutes of “switching” time each time you relocate.) Bingo! A one hour project now takes 10 hours.
For some reason, bosses always seem to think option #2 is the best one. Then, at the end of the project, they always demand to know, “What the hell took so long? What the hell is the problem?”
Indeed. The only problem was you, goddamn Bossholio.
Boss tutorial: assigning tasks
The boss is a nitwit fool. Daily I’m amazed that he actually somehow had the intelligence and competence enough to create and run this company. It’s simply mind-boggling.
I’ve blogged plenty of times about how he routinely sells items for less than what he paid for them because he doesn’t feel it is worth staff time to update prices on our web site. Riiiiight. Now you hopefully understand the mentality we are dealing with here.
If there is one thing above all else that the boss loves it is handing out we. He just loves assigning “tasks” as he likes to call them.
This morning he assigned me one. If your goal is to Destroy Your Employees you can’t be just all willy nilly about it. Using task assignments to damage, confuse and demoralize your employees is much like revenge – it’s a dish best served cold. And it also takes a bit of planning to be done properly. Task assignment shouldn’t be wielded like a blunt instrument. It should be subtlety finessed so that intestines will splay over the greatest possible distance following employee disembowelment.
I struggled to come up with a workable example of this morning’s task fiasco and this is what I came up with. I’ll tell you right up front it’s a lame example. But it works.
Boss: Tom, I want you to take 26 blocks, one for each letter of the alphabet, and put them on this shelf here, all in row.
Me: Aye, Captain.
The boss’ instructions sound simple enough, eh? Amazing I was trusted to count up to 26 all by myself. (For once no micromanaging.) And I even had one of each letter. Being a fairly intelligent fellow I had no problems so far.
But then I realized that his instructions fell short. The bosses around around here often fail to provide enough detail to properly complete their tasks. You either have to stop and seek “direction” or fill in the gaps on your own.
In this particular case he failed to specify if the order of the blocks made any difference to him. Since he didn’t specify, I thought about it for a moment, and said to myself, “Might as well put them on the shelf alphabetically.” It seemed like a logical way to do it to me.
My task done, I moved on to other important matters like having the phone shoved into my ear and shaken James Bond style to completely scramble my brains.
Some time later the boss looked me up and said, “Hey. You did that task wrong.” He always put things so nicely. I can tell he really cares about my feelings.
“Eh? ORLY?!?” I screamed into the abyss. Which is another way of saying I didn’t say a word and silently accepted his thrusting.
“Yeah, I wanted ‘Z’ to be the first letter and ‘A’ to be the last letter.” Try to imagine these words being said with the petulance of a small child, especially the “I wanted” part.
Well holy fuck shit dip wad! If that is what you wanted, why the hell didn’t you say so right up front? It’s almost like he’s playing with me. There is overhead involved in this task and now I get to redo all that overhead … again. Is that efficient? Hardly. So I returned to the shelf and swapped the ‘A’ and the ‘Z’.
Problem solved, right?
Nope! Then the boss hunted me down again and said, “I also wanted the ‘J’ to come after the ‘V’.”
Could there possibly be a more inefficient way to go about this? It is sure hard to imagine. So again I redid all the overhead involved in the task, grabbed the ‘J’ and stuck it directly after the ‘V’.
Of course, at this point, there will typically be at least one more directive from the boss, usually one that completely reverses an earlier order. I imagine this takes place even if everything is to his liking if only for the sole purpose of fucking with me. In this case it was something like, “OK, now reverse the ‘A’ and the ‘Z’. I want the ‘A’ to be first and the ‘Z’ to be last.” This is usually accompanied by some sort of sneer, as if to imply, “Geez, what a friggin’ moron is Tom. What the hell was he thinking? Having the letters in that order didn’t even make sense! I better put a reminder on my iPhone to micromanage his ass more for awhile. Good thing I personally checked this out or everything would have gone completely to shit.”
The real icing on this cake, however, is that either way wouldn’t make one bit of friggin’ difference. Not in a million years. The only difference it makes is in the imaginary world the boss has created in his mind. But it makes the boss feel important to decide things and, not only that, to make me run around implementing his decisions. I imagine he goes home at night, kicks off his shoes, and thinks to himself, “Wow. I really managed those employees today!”
I’ll abandon my dumbass example now, but I think you get the point. And the sad thing is, I’m not exaggerating or making this up. Not one little bit. And I’ve got the chat logs to prove it. Maybe someday when it is no longer necessary to give a shit about protecting my job at this company I’ll publish the boss chat logs in a book. I’ll name that book “Required Readings for the Extreme Masochist.” Subtitle: “The Machiavellian Workings of the Little Boss Brain.”
Yeah, I rather like the sound of that. Perhaps his idiocy can be used for something good after all!
Monday morning quickie
I came to work this morning full of optimism and hope for the future. You know, just like always.
The universe had other plans. It wanted me to know, first thing 8am Monday morning, the way things are going to be. I just love it when the universe gets around to noticing little ol’ me.
In my Inbox sat two emails from the Boss. It seems we have a big project and it starts today. It is, obviously, top priority, and, of course, we’re going to have to fit it in our day. Management will not be freeing us up to work on this project. It will simply have to be absorbed by us into our normal routines.
In an email that went to all staff it said, “Tom will be providing training on this project before 9am on Monday morning.” What the fuck?!? I didn’t even know this project existed before I lamely reported to work this morning. What kind of training am I going to provide? I quickly alerted all employees to get ready for me; a 5-minute treatise on how the company sucks was about to go down, yo.
Also contained within the emails were other special nuggets of text. One of these was, “I expect you’ll be able to process 20 widgets a day.” And, copy and pasted from the email verbatim is this: “Each day before you leave, I look forward to receiving an email from both of you letting me know how many items you got completed that day.”
The email has the audacity to say, “Yes, this is all on top of all of your other duties which must also get done.”
True to classic boss form, the emails left absolutely no room for employee creativity or trusting that we have the ability to even wipe our own asses. The micromanaging level of detail was truly spectacular, right down to exacting specifications regarding the spreadsheet we’ll be creating. (“It will have these columns and in this order.”)
Remember the television series Shogun? The English guy was captured and the first thing they did was make him lay on the ground and pee on him. This is a subtle form of alpha-dog behavior that lets you know your ranking in the pecking order. Right now I’m soaked to the skin in universe pee. Delightful!
This week is on!