It’s a small world and it’s only getting smaller. It’s week number two of my latest round of unemployment. I’ve used just about every job search engine at least twice a day this week. I’m still focusing only on local opportunities. Not ready to throw the towel in on that and start looking in other towns. So I’m looking at the list of Access jobs and I ran across an advertisement that sounded perfect.
We are looking for an Access database developer with a clear understanding of VBA programming techniques, Word/Excel proficiency, and familiarity with the client/server environment.
The job sounded perfect. The advertisement went on…
Candidate must have a working knowledge of full project life cycle development and knowledge of business/clinical analysis. The ideal candidate must have good communication skills, both oral and written, and an ability to listen, summarize, follow up on customer input, and translate department issues to a level the customer understands.
Alarm bells started going off in my head. Danger Will Robinson! If I had old fashioned Lost In Space robot accordion arms they would’ve started flailing. I ran across an advertisement from my old manager looking to replace me. There was her emphasis on communication and analysis. The key word phrase, follow up on customer input. The incessant need to summarize, on paper and in triplicate, what was heard in the most insignificant meeting and down to the most mundane detail. And I was reminded of my manager’s annoying need to bother customers with the most trivial changes in scope.
Once, a customer had a report that had two columns of numbers already calculated and confirmed to be added into a proposed third column that was the sum of the other two. This change that would’ve taken me about thirty minutes if I was allowed to manage my customer would have turned into a week long process that would’ve involved the development of a scope document that would’ve been approved by my manager and the customer, a time line proposal that had to be approved by the two entities, before I could start making my changes that would take about thirty minutes. Maybe this sounds like efficient project management to some people, but it sounds like bureaucratic processes for the sake of process to me.
I looked at the benign words offering hope and opportunity to some poor sap looking to end his or her run of unemployment or someone looking for a chance to find a more ideal job for their skill set. This job would be ideal for the type of person with an incessant need to keep their customers, the people asking for software development and ultimately giving us jobs, at arms length under some kind of exaggerated sense of legal protection that a contract document called a scope of understanding is supposed to offer.
But for someone who has true confidence in his or her technical skills, who understand that communication skills are more than just how well you take dictation so you can document a meeting and might include such esoteric concepts how well you assume the customer’s values and gain your customer’s trust, someone who has the ability to do his or her job well by his or herself, there is a pretty good chance that person is going to have a hard time adjusting to having a manager, a person who has never developed a single database application for anyone in her life, telling him or her exactly how to manage a project. And she doesn’t want to learn from people with experience.
Project management theory is probably a wonderful tool. It is a tool intended to help people develop guidelines for the proper project development process. But it is just that, a tool. It should not be the end all or be all of a project development process. Project management theory shouldn’t trump practical project management experience. It shouldn’t, but it does in this dark corner of corporate America.
For some unsuspecting schmuck, the advertisement full of promise, a job and a better sense of self, could lead to some serious frustration. Just like project management theory trumps project management experience, the need for documentation and processes trumps the need for actual work, the development and maintenance of software for our customers. Not a single one of my customers appreciated my manager’s software development techniques. They did their best to indulge me, but at the end of the day what they wanted was their software.
Just in case you may have been wondering, I did not apply for the job.