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project from hell, and no one to blame but myself

I usually don't come here bitching about my job, as it generally is pretty good, but man I got involved with a project that is killing me.  About a year ago I proposed what I thought would be a good enhancement to a product and was given the go ahead to develop a demo.  The demo was a big hack, and I knew it, but it often worked well enough to show customers. 

I thought, that's pretty cool, at least I showed it could be done, but this was a bad idea, and I knew it.  Over the next year, the sales guys showed off the demo to various customers, and I got pretty busy and tied up with other things, and I mostly forgot about it.   

Then the call came in.  We had a customer, and they needed it by the end of the next month.  Crap I thought.  The sales guy here was notoriously bad at offering functionality that we couldn't offer, and there were at least 3 features here that I didn't even consider, but my ego wanted to see this thing go into production.

5 weeks latter, after working my ass off, I'm just about ready for release, but it turns out the contract was never agreed upon (althought I think it will be), and after what I thought was a noble effort to deliver something from nothing, I got seriously reamed out by the president of our small company for working outside of a contract on this project.  I thought this was best for everybody, but I ended up two steps behind.  It is projects like this that make me wonder if initiative ever pays off.  I would have probably been better off never making the original proposal, even though I felt it was in the best interest of the company, and I still do.  But the end result is I am burned out and feel like crap. 

This industry can be great or it can be one hell of a bad trip.

regular poster
Wednesday, June 9, 2004

My boss regularly sells things that don't exist anywhere but on paper.

Then he can't seem to make estimates longer than "2-4 weeks".


Wednesday, June 9, 2004

Oi, where to start?

1. What you call initiative, I'd call gross stupidity.
2. Why would you expect gratitude when you go off and work on something without clearing it with your boss?
3. Just because the sales force does stupid things doesn't mean you have to join in the madness. Why would you agree to an "end of the month" deadline in the first place? You enabler, you.
4. You say it's a small firm. Does no one in your company talk to each other? How is it possible you got to this far without some gut check in the first place?

As you say, you have no one to blame but yourself. Live and learn.

Wednesday, June 9, 2004

Good lesson.  Thanks for sharing it.

The situation is typical -- sales saying they sold something that you know doesn't really work yet.  You, trying to be a 'good guy' and help the company, work like a demon to get it done.  THEN, you find out they didn't really sell it.  THEN, you find out even the BOSS doesn't appreciate your effort.

This situation typically continues that the salesman DOES sell the item, that your efforts WERE key to being able to deliver, but this is lost in the assumption that the product didn't need your efforts to get it done.

So, we now all know a few more questions to ask when this comes  up again -- as it will.

1.  To salesman -- Is there a contract?  Is there an order?  Is there a charge-number I can use?

2.  To boss -- This is the situation.  If we deliver it as is we'll look bad.  Can I work on it?  Is there a charge-number I can use?  OK, I'll write up your 'No' in an email for your confirmation, so it is clear in the future you knew about the issue.

Wednesday, June 9, 2004

>This industry can be great or it can be one hell of a bad trip

Applies to most other things as well. Would you rather
be safe?

son of parnas
Wednesday, June 9, 2004

The only mistake here is not letting your boss know about it. Passion in trying to help the customer out is a virtue.

Wednesday, June 9, 2004

"1. What you call initiative, I'd call gross stupidity."

This is way too harsh. Monday-morning quarterbacking. If it had all worked out, he may very well have been a hero. But it didn't work out. C'est la vie. Sometimes <gasp> I do things without running them past my boss first. Sometimes I'm right, and I get an atta-boy; sometimes I'm wrong and he tells me, "Let's not do that again."

I'd much rather work with a guy that has some guts and makes a few wrong decisions, than with some passive-aggressive pansy that won't make a move on anything without putting it through his office politics calculator or "running it past legal".

" the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

Rob VH
Wednesday, June 9, 2004

I blame the President. "seriously reaming" someone out for working above and beyond the call of duty to make a customer happy is a good way to end up with an average workforce that clocks out at 5.

Yes, counsel him - give him some guidance, but don't make him feel like he's been bitched out.

This was probably a no-win situation. If the customer *had* really wanted the feature and OP's manager had told him previously not to bother, there's a good chance that this post would be about him getting "seriously reamed out" for not having it ready.

Reminds me of my favorite interaction with a PHB (in the middle of a meeting):
PHB: "And the Systems VP says he wants that graphic display in the next release"
Philo: "I can't do it that fast"
"You had it working - I saw it"
"Yeah, but that was a proof of concept, and I was told to stop working on it"
"You did."


Wednesday, June 9, 2004

Sorry, but it was gross stupidity. Exactly how much time would it have taken to walk into the bosses office and say "Hey, this situation has come up, what do you want to do about it?".

This is why I asked if these guys talk or not. When not having a 30 minute conversation causes you to do 5 weeks or work that may not fit in with the plans of the company, I call that gross stupidity.

It is not initiative to go off and do something unnecessary on your own.

Wednesday, June 9, 2004

It sounds like the original poster learned a lot.

Being passionate about meeting real customer needs IS a virtue.

Hopefully, the OP now knows that when a salesman says it's sold, it may not be.

Everyone makes mistakes.  Smart people only make 'em ONCE.

Mr. Analogy
Wednesday, June 9, 2004

Smart people repeat the mistakes but learn to call them something else, like a learning experience.

Good people have a sense of deja vu just as they're about to repeat the mistake.  Whether they actually repeat it or not seems to be random.

Simon Lucy
Wednesday, June 9, 2004

The president is not my boss.  He is one level up.  The sales guy kept, saying, "I'll have the contract any day now."  Problem was the sales guy had agreed to a bunch of technical requirements with out running it by anybody, and was forced to eat crow in the middle of negotiating "the wording."  How I could have done anything else here I'm not sure.  It was no win situation.  If I didn't do anywork, we wouldn't have delivered.  Doing work got the attention of the president who thought I wasting time on the project.

I had the go ahead to work on the "core product."  Which I did.  I just came in after hours and on the weekend to add the specific customer required functionality.  That is that last time that happens. 

I think they just bought themselves a party line man and lost out on a major market opportunity where the contracts run in the 6 figure annually range, but hell it is their company.  I'm sure the competition will be glad to enter that market segment.

regular poster
Wednesday, June 9, 2004

"It is not initiative to go off and do something unnecessary on your own."

Your statement is true because you put in the word "unnecessary". That's a judgment call, in this case.

I'm really just taking issue with your use of the words "gross stupidity". This was a miscalculation. Different order of magnitude. Too bad we can't behave on this board as we would in person. I'll bet you wouldn't make that comment if this discussion was taking place around a table. A little courtesy goes a long way on the net.

I'll put away my soapbox now.

Rob VH
Wednesday, June 9, 2004


People make mistakes.  People who discuss those mistakes have a desire to learn from them.  Let's help him/her learn.

BTW- I hope you are never a parent.  Or at least you mature a great deal before becoming one.

"Johnny, you're so stupid!  How could you do that?"

Wednesday, June 9, 2004

I've always been irked by the fact that so many companies seem to let sales guys go off and do whatever the hell they want without consulting anyone else.  If an unreasonable deadline doesn't get met because the sales guy overpromised and didn't bother to find out if it could be done or not, then he's the one who should be getting reamed out.  But since they are directly responsible for bringing new profit to a company, they're put up on a "can do no wrong" pedestal...yuck.

Wednesday, June 9, 2004

Whoa ... is anyone managing this enterprise? How in the world could you spend company time on a project that wasn't a project? Very odd ... but then again I guess your company doens't do what a very simple Ad Agency I worked at did. At this place I had to account for 7.75 hours a day. A minimum entry was .25 so you can see it was easeir to get to 7.75 than it seemed. I COULD ONLY PUT PROJECTS WHICH HAD BEEN APPROVED on my timesheet. Hello ... duh ... one of the first things I did at this company was ask my boss for a FILLER project number. He created something called 'web research' or something and so at the end of the day I'd add up time on projects and if it was less than 7.75 then I'd fill in the rest with the code for 'web research' which was billed internally. Took me all of about 5 minutes to do that at the end of they day and maybe consumed 15-30 minutes a day just notating my log during the day (and I had an administrative project code which I used to cover that 15-30 minutes).  They could then see how billable I was to outside vendors. I've worked at a few other companies since then and there has been little to NO management of this time so I could almost see (almost see) how in the world you could isolate yourself to the extent you say you did to get this done.

Doing the wrong thing, whether it works in the end or not is still wrong.  Initiative ... hardly ... this is what we do. But it seems that you left billable work to do something that wasn't billable. How is that good? If you had no billable work then I'd say at least  you were trying but that should not be the job of the programmer. Personally, I used to write examples of stuff during my free time ('web research') to show account execs to give them ideas on how to sell me. Eventually I was brought out to client meetings to help create and close deals.

Wednesday, June 9, 2004

regular_poster, never undertake signficant chunks of work that aren't agreed to and signed and sealed, unless you're a researcher in a research lab.

If you're a staffer in a consulting firm, working under uncontrolled salesmen, this applies doubly. You need to develop defenses.

When new projects crop up, you DON'T agree with the sales guy to keep it secret. You make sure the boss knows, and then you write out specs and have everyone sign them. That way, when you write Word in five weeks, some arsehole is not going to castigate you for not supporting Polish.

If the above arrangements don't work, go get a job in a brothel. At last then you will know what your job really is.

Wednesday, June 9, 2004

We do work all that time without contracts.  This is called building products.  Typically the contracts come after the work is done. 

regular poster
Wednesday, June 9, 2004

demo = evil trap

Been there, built them, paid for it dearly.  Never build a demo if you can help it.  Always give them something far more primitive, like a non-interactive block diagram Visio.  The minute you you create a demo that almost looks like it works you are cooked.  Everyone things you just have to "finish up".

20 yrs experience, but missing a few year's sleep
Wednesday, June 9, 2004

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