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Philo's "Sackage" - a few comments on politics

"Yo" -

I decided to start this as a new thead because I crave attention. :-)  No, really, what I wanted to do here was to explore the politics of consulting in risky environments.

I have been of the opinion for several years that *NO MATTER* what your legal/fiduciiary role is with a client, if you are a "lone wolf" consultant/contractor and you work on an hourly basis, you *CAN* and you *WILL* be confused with FTE staff.

And just as most technology FTEs (especially those working on poorly managed projects in crisis) are treated like troublesome idiot children, so will you be too.

IRS 20 questions don't mean shit in this context. Your contract doesn't mean shit. Common sense doesn't mean shit. Your laundry list of stellar accomplishments means nothing. You will *not* be treated as a business partner, a one person "consulting firm", or as anything that elevates you in any way. You are "staff". And NOTHING MATTERS except what the client thinks.

Now, what did Philo have working against him?

- Most damning: bad managers. A pompous @sshole ass-covering set of idiots in the management team from the so called "solution provider" consulting firm.

- Political and psychological distance from the end client. The consulting company with its set of morons running the show, and not the law enforcement agency, was REALLY Philo's "employer" cum client.

- Philo's prior commitments to other clients. Even though he said so up front!

- Philo's inability or unwillingness to bill at least "to capacity", and coming in at 10 AM. (again: DOESN'T DOESN"T DOESN'T MATTER whether you even do the work! it's appearances!) While in itself not bad - on a project in crisis, ANYONE who is not consistently sharing in the joint sacrifice, cause and suffering, with blood sweat and tears, is deemed a slacker. Report late - no-no. Take time off - double no no. Bill less than nominal - no-no. Compounded - you were "lucky" to have lasted as long as you did.

Honestly, Philo - if you had worked plenty of overtime, if you had not taken time off for vacation or travel to support your other client,  and if you had been an underachiever with all this... you had not really gotten your stuff done, and you were subdued about your opinions... if you just took on the role of a loser who was sacrificing himself for the greater good... and you made sure to huff and puff and show how much effort you were putting out... my guess is that you would have been well regarded and liked by management and you would still have the contract.

About the idea of sending a "tattletail" note ... I think it's safe to assume that in the environment in which you found yourself --- non managing programmers are probably deemed as useful idiot savants. Skilled monkeys, good with typing computer language statements into computers; but lacking any and all wisdom and judgement. So what I'm saying is that the credibility of any programmer would be deemed to be just about nil. You'd be bucking an established political order of toadies, managers in denial, and outright deliberate misrepresentation. By the time anyone saw such a note, it would be so filtered by denial that all it could possibly do would be to damage your reputation and open you up for libel or other tort.

Lastly ... my guess, based upon the unrealistic timeframe and the complexity of the project ... is that numnutz in the public agency concerned selected the low bid. THEY are ultimately at fault, not even the consulting company you reported to. The agency deliberately bought cheap. They probably got bids in hand that outlined realistic scope and price, and they said "pshaw! we can get it done at 1/3 this price from Billy Bob's Solution Providers!"

It kind of surprises me that nobody else in the other thread had mentioned some of these things, except peripherally. This is a business, and perceptions matter as much as reality. The "Camel" blog and project was really a study in perceptions of contractors under really poor management.

Good luck on your next venture. As a fellow hired gun, I am aggrieved right along with you.

Bored Bystander
Saturday, May 03, 2003

PS: Philo, if your blog is indicative of your face to face personality, you are quite the statesman under pressure.

If *I* were in that kind of situation, I would quickly develop a sort of "Tourette's Syndrome". I'd be walking around to the cubes of the worst managers from the solution provider, sputtering "dumbass! dumbass! dumbass! dumbass! moron! jerk***!... ass covering loser! liar!"

Only the guys with the butterfly nets would save them from me. :-)

And it also goes to show that - as much as I know about politics on an intellectual level, I don't play it very well...

Bored Bystander
Saturday, May 03, 2003

Bored, I agree 1000% with every single thing you said. The two things that damned me:
1) I speak my mind. I don't play "yes man". Now, once a decision is made and directed, then I won't belabor it, but any time the question comes up I'll be deadly honest all over again.

2) Not recognizing the criticality of billing 40/week. That was my faux pas. That's where I could've "fixed" the issue - I think if I had simply worked 9-5+ every day this likely wouldn't have happened. In that sense I definitely did it to myself, and that's the lesson I take from this.

I do want to clarify one thing, and that's the players, because this is most confusing:

The group running the development effort is the IT branch of the law enforcement agency, and the managers involved are full time employees of the agency (although admin types, not law enforcement types). The agency I contracted through, BigITCo, is simply acting as a body shop here, and is working on time & materials. They were *not* involved in the development effort whatsoever, other than providing people.

I apologize for not making that clear earlier - I hadn't realized the potential misperception.


PS - I'm not going to send the blog; it was an entertaining thing to contemplate. :-)

Saturday, May 03, 2003

Hi Philo,

Thanks for the response.

OK, I amend my opinion of the situation slightly. The consulting company probably had no effective role in this. (Brokers and agencies are a fun whipping boy, but in this case it's just a financial arrangement.)

What this sounds like is a group of employees acting as project managers who are WAY over their heads. I get the impression that this is the first large scale development project they've ever attempted in their careers.

It certainly shows.

Bored Bystander
Sunday, May 04, 2003

Is BigITCo aware of the situation here? It's fairly obvious that the project managers are going to blame them for the system failing. It might be another possible route to "blow the whistle" as it were.

Chris Tavares
Sunday, May 04, 2003

Working the hours 9 to 5 critical I think. I tried working 10am-7pm, but it just causes people to think you are slacking, even if you work hard.

Matthew Lock
Sunday, May 04, 2003

Generalizing a bit more, I say match your work hours to the environment.  I've worked places where "dedicated" meant getting in early (~6 am), even if you always left by 3 pm.

At the last place I worked, whenever my boss worked late he was impressed by a couple of engineers who were always still in their cubes at 6 - 7pm. Of course, these guys didn't come in until 10 am everyday, but his perception was that late == hard working.

Sunday, May 04, 2003

I've rarely worked on the basis of hours and instead agreed a fixed rate, either for the whole project with stage payments, or a monthly fixed rate.  Its also made clear that its up to me to achieve whatever it is that's required and they have to enable that.

Similarly, I've rarely worked through an agency or third party and when I have its always been a mess.  Perhaps because of the concentration on hours filled in on timesheets and the separation between the client and myself.

I might end up working a considerable number of hours ,perhaps more than a regular employee, perhaps not but I'm happier and the client is as well (on the whole).

The advantage it gives me as well is that in the kinds of situation that Philo found  himself in I've been able to blow the whistle (constructively) because I'm never seen as an employee or in any chain of command.

That can be misused of course it would be easy to become seen as a kind of prima donna so you have to have some sensitivity and become a colleague to those you work with and trusted, and a management tool for those that hired you.

Its the Janus Effect.

Simon Lucy
Sunday, May 04, 2003

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