Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Management Decisions

Chapter 1: Bruce and the Preacher Man

Something happened that day at the office that was very disturbing. Will should have gone out with his friends to a ballgame or he could have watched that DVD that came in the mail over the weekend. Instead it was 9 pm on a Wednesday evening and Will was sitting on the couch staring at the wall. The TV was silent and the laptop case was closed. Will had been mulling over a series of why questions, the kind that didn’t bring easy answers. As usual, it was something involving a management decision that had confounded his sense of right and wrong It really wasn’t anything new except this had been one of those times a “decision” had direct impact on a person’s life that went beyond what happened in those offices at Giant Networks. So Will was thinking about what kind of people he spent his time with at work and how anyone could instigate a situation like this without feeling the same kind of pain that he felt.

It takes a certain kind of person to succeed as a manager in a Silicon Valley company. They need to have a certain attitude. To believe in themselves (“I’m right”), their boss (“definitely always right”), the company (“we are on the right track”), and in their own progress. (“I’ve done great things and promise even more to come”) The manager must have the ability to set aside truth, logic, or any present circumstance with potential to prevail against the company line. By and large, managers in the modern day corporation were sophists to their very core. They had invented for themselves a whole new way of communication that Will referred to as Corporate Speak. It was the kind of language that was couched in whimsical and nonchalant fashion and was meant to detract blame and nullify the significance of bad decisions. Damn it! Many mangers are really stubborn people who could never admit mistakes or identify uncertainty.

It was just this sort of irreverence for knowledge that now goaded Will he sat there on the couch that evening. He felt that someone had crossed the decency line and it was all the more sad because this situation had begun with rays of hope only a few short weeks before.

Eight Weeks Earlier:

“Hey Will, can I see you for a moment?” Marco Riccardi, a VP at Giant Networks had noticed Will in the hallway and called out from his office. “Valerie Dubois is going to hire a new Program Manager and she’s trying to set up an interview team. I told her you can help represent us”. Will considered it a good sign that they trusted him with recruitment of important position like a PM. He would not only be part of the team, but help integrate and determine their make-up. It was all very positive. “Great Marco! I know Valerie’s group well enough but I ought to speak with her and find out what specific projects are going to the new person.” Marco was always happy with the way Will would throw himself forward at a new assignment. “Well OK then. Sounds like you kind of got this under control already. Go ahead and get with Valerie then, sooner is better”.

Will was surprised to find out from Valerie that the position was being offered as a six month contract with a potential to hire option instead of a permanent hire. “Will, I need to move on this real fast. I was hoping you can take this stack of resumes and find the best candidates You can make it a phone screen, maybe five or six of them. Lets bring the best couple of them in for a quick interview.” Will waited patiently. He had a lot of questions but realized there was a certain way that people thought about contractors at Giant Networks and it generally didn’t go over well to counter this attitude directly. “Valerie, if you don’t mind, I’ll go ahead and set up in person meetings with a few of them. I think it should help.” Valerie’s face showed a hint of concern which Will picked up on. “When do you need this done?” he said quickly before she could object. “Today’s what? Tuesday, right? I was hoping to have a PM in here by Monday to help us coordinate and develop a new support model for the 7400 series. We have the Fast Access people coming in for a meeting Monday afternoon.” Will was already starting to fill the whirlwind gathering which was fairly typical of the way things happened at Giant Networks. They always wanted to jump from concept to reality in minutes rather than days. “What is Fast Access?” Will countered regretfully. “You didn’t know we outsourced support for all the new Consumer lines going forward? We bid out the business last quarter and Fast Access gave us the best turn. They’re expensive but quick! We need to take risk and cut Support cost after the revenue impact from the downturn. We are going to RIF about 250 Support people and get it done in time to mention in the quarterly earnings announcement. Keep that to yourself of course.” Will was trying to put the news in perspective but Valerie was already making a show of impatience by rattling her thumbs on the desktop. “Ok, I’ll see if I can get people in there during the next couple of days, then we can settle up on the final two candidates. Are you available Friday?” Valerie thought about it . “Marco told me you are basically free to do this, so I’ll trust you to keep me in the loop. I want those interview appointments on scheduled for Friday. Talk to Kim as soon as possible to nail down the spots, 30 minutes each though I probably won’t need that if you did the homework and screened them.” Valerie’s eyes drifted away toward her computer screen and then she actually started doing something else without waiting for Will’s reply. She made it clear that the result was all that mattered, there should be nothing more to discuss. “Ok then.” Will responded and left the office knowing he’d gotten about as much from Valerie as he could expect.

Will managed to find four people with relevant credentials for a PM contractor who could interview and be available to start on their timeline. By Thursday afternoon he had narrowed down to two candidates. There was Robert Boyle, a guy with ten years Telephony experience. Robert came in dressed up like a country preacher on Sunday with a strong and earnest handshake and a solemn “I’ll do what you want” attitude. Robert insisted on showing Will that he had made the most of his ten months “between jobs” by getting a book published. He reached down and pulled up a black briefcase to his lap and unsnapped the lock. “Here it is. Its called How To Manage Career Transition.” Will took a quick look at the book, noticing it was a self produced. Will might have wrote a book like that himself at one point but right now the whole subject seemed kind of pathetic to him. It had a “blind leading the blind” aspect to it. Will guessed it was exact opposite impression from what Robert was apparently hoping for. Will tried to probe with questions about what it would be like to work with this guy in meetings and how he might manage conflicting priorities among difficult people. There was a lot of nasty stuff that went on at Giant Networks but it had to be managed in a very pleasant way to keep down the stress factors and get through the long hours. “Sounds like there are a lot of difficult people working around this project” Robert had responded. Will couldn’t block out this preacher image from his mind and he imagined it would carry over to the project meetings with threats of hellfire and brimstone and warnings about adhering to the master plan. This just wouldn’t do. Will became a bit anxious knowing that this preacher man was his number two choice at the moment and the deadline beckoned tomorrow.

Bruce Warner was the next candidate. Will was initially put off when Bruce showed up at the cafĂ© patio wearing dark sunglasses. Will had decided to meet outdoors as a way to shake things up a bit. It had only been a couple of hours before when he’d encountered the preacher man and he really needed to purge that image. Bruce began in dangerous territory by asking a couple of pointed questions about the work environment and whether ‘travel is involved”. It made him appear standoffish.

But things changed when Will discovered that Bruce was quite adept in explaining how hemight organize a theoretical schedule and how he might interact with the various people involved . Will liked the way that Bruce listened closely and asked questions to help understand what would motivate people and how to balance their priorities with his own. He was also very honest in detailing his recent work experience. He’d been working as a Project Manager at a small start-up Human Interface Design company in San Francisco which had very promising technology for touchscreens. They had unfortunately ran out of cash in a down economy and were forced to sell out before they could go to market. Bruce had been unemployed for six months and admitted that interviews were very scarce these days. “I’d really appreciate this opportunity to show you what I can do. I promise you we’ll be engaged with that Support transition by early next week and we should be able to get a first pass task list ready by the end of the week. Then we can catch Fast Access on the following Monday and get some names and dates.” Will knew he was taking some risk but considering the tight deadline and the preacher man, this guy looked good to him. He and Bruce spent the last ten minutes of the interview in casual discussion about plans for the weekend, which was supposed to be a nice and mild one.

Will hurried to arrange Valerie’s interview schedule for the next day with her admin Kim only to find that the busy Program Office Director was now unwilling to meet in person with the candidates. “Valerie told me to have you send their resumes over and make sure they are available all of Friday afternoon. She’ll call them when she can.” “Ok, she should have the resumes for Robert and Bruce in her inbox now and I’ll supplement with an email with my impression of their skills and background.” “Sure” Kim answered knowing it would be fruitless to set any expectations for Valerie. Whatever happened tomorrow would depend on her mood and circumstances of the moment.

Will wrote up a good contrast and comparison of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the two candidates along with his ‘strong” recommendation in favor of Bruce and sent it along to Valerie and Kim with a reminder of the need to finalize before close of business Friday.

Friday morning came and went with no response from Valerie, so Will called and left a message to find out what was going on. Late afternoon and still no response, so Will stopped by Valerie’s office. Kim stopped him at door and explained that Valerie would do the interviews after 5 pm. Later that evening Will logged in from home to look at email. To his surprise there was a message from Valerie to HR copying him and asking them to offer the job to the preacher man.

That evening Bruce Warner received a call from his agency informing he had not been selected for the “opportunity at Giant”. Bruce decided to go out and get a drink and ended up staying at the bar quite a bit longer than planned. On Saturday he got up late and called his girlfriend to explain he wouldn’t be starting a new job after all. He had felt good about the interview but his hopes had been dashed again. He spent the rest of the day telling the same story to a few other friends. He found it very difficult to retract his optimism from the previous day and wondered what everyone must think of him now. On Sunday night he traveled over the hill to Santa Cruz and stayed out late drinking again. It was embarrassing enough that he had nothing positive to say to anyone, but even worse that he had to borrow money to get drunk. He’d gone through three packs of cigarettes over the weekend and now there wouldn’t even be enough money left to buy more smokes.

Chapter 2: A Rough Start

Monday morning and Will’s phone was ringing as he walked up to his desk. He could also see the message indicator blinking. He hadn’t been expecting much to happen on Monday morning this early. “Hi Will. I’m Lexi Jones from Dannon Recruitment. I’ve been trying to reach Bruce Warner. Valerie said we need to get him in here today. “What?” was all Will could muster in response. “I thought Valerie had offered to the job to that other guy Robert Boyle?” “Can you hold there a minute?” Lexi asked. After a moment she came back online and explained that Robert had decided to accept a full time position from another company. Will recalled Robert had appeared a bit smug in the interview. “Turns out he was just playing us as a second option” he thought. “Well Lexi, let me see if I can help reach Bruce today.”

Late in the morning on Monday and Will had still not been able to get in touch with Bruce. Valerie was furious and had called Marco to complain about the lack of support from Dannon and Will and a few other random entities. Marco, not knowing all the particulars of the situation, had offered to have Will assigned to the project until the contractor could be on boarded and the situation stabilized.

“Hey Will. What happened Friday? Valerie seemed kind of upset.” Marco was in Will’s office Tuesday morning to find out what was going on. “I owe them a favor Will so I told them you’re on the project, effective immediately. Find out what the hell is going on with Fast Access. Get you ass in there and start working the project until we can find another resource. If I were you, I’d start leaning really hard on Dannon. Tell ‘em we’re thinking of sending this req out to other agencies.” Marco wasn’t really worried, he knew Will could probably handle the project for the long term if necessary. Will wasn’t too happy about the prospect of working for Valerie though. “Well now, it wouldn’t be the first time something like this happened, now would it?. Get out the chairs and start playing some music” Marco had his own special way of laying thing outs for Will. “Oh, ah….Will. You need to get over there and lead the Fast Access kick-off meeting this afternoon. I’ll forward you the invite I got from Valerie. You can relax though, it doesn’t start for about an hour.” “Thanks Marco. I knew I could count on you to makes things interesting this afternoon.” “Hey, don’t push your luck. See ya” Marco said and then he walked away intent on avoiding further questions.

Will skipped lunch in order to make a phone call to Dannon and he was hoping maybe he could grab a few moments after that to prep for the meeting he was supposed to be leading. “Hi Lexi. Will here again. I think we might need a plan B. Bruce hasn’t returned my call yet. I’m really not thrilled with any of the other candidates, so maybe can you get a few more people in here. Use Robert and Bruce’s resumes to model the background we’re looking for.” Will had decided he wasn’t going to threaten Lexi with the dreaded “Giant Networks means everything to your pitiful little company” line that was so typical of how people around Giant thought about themselves and their company. Will believed that if someone was giving best effort, one should honor that by at least being polite. Suggest alternatives and work with them like the word “partner” would imply. “Well Will, I do have some promising news. We’ve contacted Bruce just a few minutes ago and they are doing the background check on him. He should be able to come in tomorrow and I’ll confirm that within the hour. In the meantime, I’ll get your plan B started in case we need it.” Will was happy with the news and immediately put all effort to discover what agenda he’d be pusing in the Fast Access meeting. Things were looking up!

Late afternoon on Monday and Will had just sent out status and action items from the Fast Access meeting. As usual there were plenty of surprises, the most significant being that Fast Access was still waiting for business requirements to develop a timeline for rolling out the 7400 series support model. Valerie rapped her knuckles the door and then walked in to Will’s office. “Good job with Fast Access. I think they made it pretty clear what it would take to get them in bed.” Valerie announced, clearly pleased to combine slick with vulgar. “The 7400 team needs to step if they still expect a quick turn on this”, Will offered. “Yeah, well the RIF notices are going out and we’re committed. There won’t be any support unless you make it happen. Anyway, I thought you got off to a good start today. What are your thoughts on this contractor? Do we need him?” Will was floored. “She thinks I’m going to volunteer to take this on after she muffled the requisition process?” Will couldn’t see himself becoming somebody’s pet, a concern already in his relationship with Marco. “Yes Valerie, we need the contractor. I have Bruce coming in tomorrow”. Valerie tried to hide her disappointment. “Excellent news! Lets see if this guy will work out then. I’d appreciate you taking some time with Bruce over the next week or two. Go to all the meetings. I’ll decide on to proceed once you two give me a status report next Friday.” Will realized this wasn’t going in the direction he wanted, but thought it best to put aside his concern for the time being. “Ok then, I’ll let you know once we get things situated with Bruce”. “Oh Will, there was something I meant to tell you. The 7400 team doesn’t have requirements down because they are playing games with the budget. I think they’re trying to squeeze in more requirements at the last moment and hope to blame the cost over run on us. They’re like little chicks chirping and you feed them, hoping to shut them up. Only now they’ve become fat little chicks that are even more hungry. I’m sure you’ll figure out how to deal with them. Bye-bye now”, Valerie said with the air of satisfaction that her orders were being carried out. She believed in keeping the troops on edge. That was Valerie, forceful and clever.

Bruce Warner was running late. It was a Tuesday morning and he hadn’t faced the prospect of getting up and going to work for months. He felt like hell and the attempt to drink a lot of coffee had made him feel sick. Yet here he was, arriving at Giant Networks, and then getting lost trying to find the security check-in site. “All these buildings look exactly the same. They must save a ton of money on building design and maintenance.” He rushed around the parking lot and had to ask at least three different people for help with directions. It was after 11 am when Bruce finally called Will and told him he was somewhere in the parking lot but he had a security badge.

Will came outside and when he saw Bruce walking toward him, his heart jumped up toward his throat and alarm bells were clanging in his head. “He looks terrible”, Will thought. His shirt was visibly soaking with sweat and he looked as though hadn’t slept for a couple of days. This was his guy, the one Valerie had overruled at first and anything he did would surely reflect on Will. He tried to remain calm and polite as he greeted Bruce and took him back toward the office. “Did you have trouble finding us?” Will asked. “Well, yeah.” Bruce answered. “Don’t these buildings remind you of an army barracks?” Bruce looked around, surveying the horizon. As far as one could see, there were Giant Networks buildings in either direction. “Yes sir!” Bruce gave a mock salute. “Please excuse the way I look. It’s hot today and I’ve been rushing around all over the place. I must have walked a couple of miles”. Will finally smiled a little. “Well I know what you mean, they have those signs and walkways all over the lot but I think it only ads to the confusion.” Will was starting to feel a more relaxed, but still didn’t necessarily feel like bringing the new guy in to the building for introductions. “Bruce, it’s almost lunch time. How about if we grab something to eat right now? There’s a place we can walk to from here if you’d like.” Bruce hesitated as though there might be several things concerning him. “Come on! It’s the traditional way to welcome the guy on board” Will announced with gusto. “Well Ok Will, but to tell you the truth, I’d rather drive over there if you don’t mind.” Bruce was pulling at his shirt, indicating how bad it looked and Will understood. Will was also thinking about how there was no such tradition to welcome a contractor on board with a free lunch, but he had to think quickly in situations like this.

DJ Fox was Director of European Services & Support and at that moment just happened to be walking across the parking lot toward Will and Bruce. “Hey Will, got a second?” he called out and he approached quickly with the air of someone seizing on a lucky opportunity. Some people might say that God was not smiling on Will at that moment, but Will was thinking “the gods must be smiling down right now, having arranged some pawns in this configuration.” DJ completely launched immediately in to his “parking lot” summary speech of concerns for the 7400 Support roll out in the EMEA theater. He was losing some people in the RIF and hence forced to give up some of his power with this latest outsourcing move. His only recourse in the situation would be throw down freaking hell on Fast Access and the Project team and make the most of an opportunity to present a horse and pony show of customer concerns. “I expect you’ll follow the usual course and let Americas Support come first? Force the rest of us blokes to line up behind!. Well, I’m putting you on notice right now that it’s not going to be that way this time. I’ve got slim resources and a very short window. I will insist that this roll-out goes concurrent.” Now DJ stopped talking and took a good, hard look at Bruce for the first time. Then he turns back to Will, his lip sneered and he eyes glaring. “If you were smart. You might have already asked for my opinion before bringing these Fast Access guys in here for a meeting today.” DJ stopped to let those words sink in and survey the damage. “Good God Almighty” Will thought, “first there was Valerie and now this guy. We’re going to have a fine time with this project”. Will turned toward Bruce, his eyes pleading with a “lucky you” expression. “DJ, I’d like to introduce Bruce Warner. He’s going to be taking over the Fast Access project”. The men shook hands but now DJ had his hands on his hips and he was looking at Will unbelievingly. “Valerie told me to run concerns through you. I thought she would know what’s going on if anyone did. Maybe I need to stop by and chat with her?” Will could easily see that it was a bad time and place to work through DJ’s conflicts. “No, you can run concerns through myself and Bruce. We’ll get back in touch with you later this week. Are you here until Friday?” DJ was determined not to walk away without a fight. “I’m expecting to get through this before Friday” he told them.

With that, the pleasantries in the parking were over and the men parted to go in different directions. While Will and Bruce went out for lunch, DJ Fox went straight to Valerie’s office to tell her he wasn’t going to entrust Giant Networks customer critical business to a new contractor. He also threw in a couple of pointed comments about Bruce’s appearance along with his very own off the cuff assertion concerning his capability. Valerie reassured him that Marco Riccardi was completely behind the project and she would personally insure that it would be a success. DJ was happy man! It had taken less than thirty minutes for him to create a big splash around the Giant Networks corporate campus. For her part, Valerie called up Marco and asked him to “keep an eye” on Will and his new contractor. “Oh great” Marco said with his unwavering capability to express exasperation in two syllables or less. “Will is still not experienced enough to manage this perception crap. Its like going in to a bar with your little brother. Couldn’t he at least make it look like he knows what’s going to happen next?” Given a moment to think, Marco eventually found a silver lining. “Valerie, please, DJ’s just firing a few shots over the bow to get your attention. I was kind of thinking about taking a trip out to Amsterdam anyway. It wouldn’t hurt to show some executive concern for the success of Fast Access in Europe. I’ll take those guys out and we’ll all get smashed. At the end of day, they’ll be toasting your team and DJ will be slobbering all over himself to make sure the next train doesn’t leave the station without him. Do I sound worried?” Valerie laughed in that cute way women sometimes do if they want to come through as unimposing. “I’m writing in this trip on my schedule now. Let me know if you want to come along. I can pull a few strings just for you Valerie.” Marco said with his own sweetheart voice. “Will do” Valerie answered. Office politics put together strange bedfellows.

Chapter 3: The Project Endures

The project daze came to Bruce Warner in ways he had never expected and could not have prepared for. First there was this friendly guy Will who acted like his boss but at the same time seemed eager to escape from Fast Access. Then there was Valerie who was in fact his boss but never had a moment of time to spare for him. He felt like a little church mouse that had been set loose in hell. Every day brought a new adventure with negotiation on project requirements. Sure, there were tasks to track and people assigned, but every checkpoint meeting found someone challenging existent requirements or adding new ones. The rank and file folks of Giant Networks had immediately warmed to Bruce, finding his attitude refreshing. He was actually willing to listen to their concerns and attempted to bring their feedback to management meetings. Bruce had noted right away that DJ Fox and his group provided more than their share of these issues. He was constantly having to work back through delays in schedule arising from one or more tasks assigned to DJ’s group. Finally, he could stand no more. He realized that both his own success and the success of the project depended on his ability to reel in the EMEA Support team.

“Hi Valerie. My apologies for barging in but I feel it’s important that we have face time on this issue.” Valerie pulled together some papers she’d been working on and gave him an entirely pitiful look. “Ok then, Bruce lets go through your concerns then. But shouldn’t we bring Will in on this?” Bruce wanted this job and realized there would always be certain hurdles to climb. Will had been saying lately that he should assert himself more, especially when dealing with managers. “Will said it was important that you have my perspective on this.” Valerie was thinking about it. “Ok Bruce. Why don’t you speak with Kim in the morning to get on my schedule? Tell her to red flag this and we need an hour. OK? I don’t want to short change you.“ Bruce agreed, after all, it was the first sign that she was going take him seriously. Now he allowed himself to think how they would offer him a permanent position at the end of the contract. “I’m back in the saddle” he announced triumphantly that night to his friends in the bar. Later he went out to the parking lot for a smoke break and called his girlfriend. Sally Branscombe had been observant enough to note that Bruce’s attitude about this job at waffled from week to week. Still it felt good to hear a touch of confidence in Bruce’s voice. She allowed herself to think that he might take charge of what happened in his life and maybe there was some possibility of a future with him.

Another week went by and Will was looking at the schedule update that Bruce had sent out. He’d only recently felt like it was safe to pull back from this project but what he saw today alarmed him. There were several tasks marked in bold red to indicate slip and as before, they were all associated with the European Support team. “I thought Bruce had this under control. He was supposed to have worked this through with Valerie.” Will picked up the phone and dialed. “Hello Bruce. Do you have some time this afternoon? I need to talk about the schedule”. Bruce agreed that they should meet. In fact, he’d been embarrassed about the lack of progress recently and dreading when he would break the news to Will. “I still haven’t had that meeting with Valerie. She keeps putting me off.” Will was stunned! It was exactly the kind of thing that could happen around here, but still he couldn’t help feeling that Bruce should have taken a more active stance to red flag the problem with Valerie. “Bruce, I don’t think we need to meet after all. It’s clear enough who I need to be talking to. I’m going over to see Valerie right away”. “Thanks Will. I knew you would understand but I didn’t want to bother you with this. I’ve sent email and tried to call her a couple of times. The only thing I’ve gotten back is a couple of meeting cancellation notices.” Will liked Bruce and there were many examples where he was doing a fine job but surely he most realize that Valerie wasn’t likely to be embracing him with open arms at the end of his contract. “What kind of an arrangement to we have here anyway?” Will thought to himself. “Bruce was been setting up to succeed. Shouldn’t a manager be responsible for that?”

Will thought about going to Marco for help with the situation but then he realized that Marco would want him to handle it and besides, he wasn’t in the mood to hear a lecture anyway. It took Will another couple of days to get an audience with Valerie and only a quick phone conversation at that. “Yes, I spoke to Bruce about the schedule. We agreed on some things he can try to do”. Will was puzzled. He’d been trusting Bruce and of course he didn’t trust Valerie as much. Yet she seemed perfectly. “When did you speak to Bruce?” he asked. “Oh, I just spoke to him a few minutes ago actually”, she replied. Before Will could respond she added “I hope you can do me a favor. I’m going to be on a trip next week. Can you go to the Fast Access meeting while I’m out? This is a critical period and there are several milestones coming.” Will agreed to do this but told himself it was for Bruce’s sake and for Marco’s sake, but most of all for his own sake. The project was still winding through hell and he was still tangled up with it. He called up Marco and told him about Valerie’s request but Marco seemed to already know about her travel plans. “Just thought you’d like to know, ah, high level what’s going on” Will told him. “Oh really! Well thank you” Marco said in that overly exaggerated tone he used to denote “don’t bring the sucky world to me”. Will turned to go but Marco called him back. “I just wanted to let you know that you are doing a hell of job with Fast Access and other people have noticed that too”. Will found himself wondering what other gems Marco would bring out to polish. “And Bruce?” Will replied. “What do people think about Bruce?” Marco didn’t appreciate the questions, not after he’d been trying to play nice. “People are stepping over each other and getting all tangled up just because they want to come in here and say something nice about Bruce” Marco teased. “Hey come on, you know what it’s like with new people. They have to prove themselves.” Will thought about that before replying. “Well, I think Bruce is doing a good job with this. Anyone would have trouble dealing with DJ, much less a new guy.” Marco removed his glasses and rubbed his eyelids. “Well there you go” he finally replied. “Bruce is having trouble with DJ and you are going to step in to help. I think that’s about all I need to know about Bruce right now.” Marco pulled a finger across his throat to indicate the subject was closed. Will could feel tension building and he knew whatever happened next week would be about his career at Giant Networks and probably have very little to do with Bruce. “If I were him, this would be the last place I’d want to be when the contract is up” Will thought and made a note to advise Bruce to start looking and the company job board and figure out where the opportunities are. “Working for Valerie would go beyond desperate”.

The next morning Will came looking for Bruce but could not find him. He tried again a couple of hours later and still no success. He ran toward the stairway but just then there was Bruce emerging from the elevator. “Hi Will. Were you looking for me? I was taking a break” he said and tugged at this shirt pocket to indicate the cigarette pack. Bruce looked very nervous. “Valerie said she talked to you?” Will half expected him to deny it but there was no response from Bruce. “Do you think you are getting anywhere on this DJ situation.” Bruce fidgeted. “Can we go back downstairs? I think I can use another smoke already” he said. Will couldn’t stomach cigarette smoke but judging from Bruce’s expression, there probably weren’t going to be other choices available. “Can we take the stairs?” Will was so averse to the affect of second hand smoke that he could feel it immediately burning his eyelids if someone lit up over twenty yards away. Prolonged exposure meant a headache and finally nausea

As they walked down the stairway, Will began digging for information. “I’m sorry to push but I need to know what’s going on with DJ. Right now, it would be incredibly relevant to give some positive news to Marco”. Bruce gave him a knowing look. “Valerie told me that my plan to break off EMEA into a separate call sounded fine! I showed her the way I had reorganized the schedule. It was different from the way you had it, showing dependencies on EMEA with subtasks. Provides more visibility for the pain points we’ve been having”. Bruce was smiling. He was feeling pleased to think he might have more information than Will for once. “So Valerie told you to go forward with that?” “Yeah, but then she turns and tells me IF IT’S NOT TOO LATE”. “Ok, you got me on the hook, now tell me what she meant by that.” “Sure Will. She told me she planned to have a Come To Jesus meeting next week with DJ”. Will cringed. “Ever notice it’s mostly women using that expression nowadays? It’s like how you hear that someone was beaten when they were child and more likely to had down the same treatment to their children. Now we have people imitating the condescending and blasphemous expressions from their precious star VP’s. Anyway, I guess you realize it wouldn’t be normal for a manager to have a side bar with a key stakeholder about the schedule and leave the PM out of the discussion? Damn it Bruce, you can’t let her manage for you! There’s one major pressure point and one big road block on the project and we knew this from the start. We have to offer the solution here, not step aside”. Will glared at him.

Bruce was surprised by the outburst and now they had stopped on a landing and he could see he needed to say something to get things back in perspective. Will had been his ally here and even though he wanted to make his own mark, Will was still his life line at this company. Just the same, if Will wanted him to assert himself, he could do that right here. “Don’t worry about it man. I’ve got a deal with Valerie. After she speaks with DJ, we’re supposed to meet again and put the final touches on the schedule and we’ll finally have stability there. After that, it’s basic project management and you know I can handle that, right? Isn’t that why you brought me here?” Bruce started to walk down the next flight of stairs but Will did not follow. “OK Bruce. You’re right. I’m going to step out of this. Lets get together next week after you have your meeting with Valerie. Like I said, I’m sorry to push this” Bruce was pleased. “Hey, if I don’t see you, have a good weekend Will. I’m going over to Santa Cruz to visit Sally this weekend. Just lay around the house and walk over to beach. Sounds like you need a little bit of relaxation yourself.” Will couldn’t agree more. “Have a good one Bruce”. Bruce turned and walked hurriedly down the stairs, his hand fumbling for the pack with one hand and for the lighter with the other. He couldn’t wait to get into another smoke. Will walked back toward his office. “Its not the way I’d handle this but everybody as their own way to get things done. There are a lot of soft touches in program management and it would be hard to know exactly what had happened without being in the room with Bruce and Valerie. Maybe Bruce has a good read on it. Who knows?”

Chapter 4: It Had to End Badly For Someone

Will returned to work that Monday after a restful weekend and now turned his attention to other things he’d been neglected since the contractor had come on board. He’d made the mistake of micro-managing before and saw this as a chance to prove for himself that he could trust someone else to see it through, even the critical projects like Fast Access. One had to draw a line somewhere. Set expectations appropriate and stay out of the way. Think of how you would like to be treated. It was a swell way of thinking but there were a couple of events unfolding that were about to bring the unpredictability of life here in Silicon Valley back in to sharp focus.

On Tuesday afternoon Will realized it hadn’t seen Bruce that week nor had there been any form of communication from him. He thought they had left each other on good terms? Will decided to do a quick check and found Bruce’s desk looked remarkably clean as if it had been abandoned. He went to break room and next to the cafeteria, but Bruce was nowhere to be found. He took a walk across to another building where several of the project team members were located. Someone immediately came up and asked about Bruce, as in “where is Bruce today, do you know?”

As Will walked by Valerie’s office he noticed the door was open and she was in there talking on the phone. When she looked up and saw Will standing there, she got up and closed the door. “Hmmm, so she’s acting like she thought I was coming over here to push back on something? But Bruce thinks they have an understanding?” Will thought. “It wouldn’t surprise me if there was a change in plans already. But where was Bruce?” This seemed like the more important factor for the moment. When Will got back to his office there was a phone message from a colleague informing that they were having difficulty reaching Bruce today and have something that was supposed be handled. So now it seemed clear enough the Bruce had not come in to the office all day! Will began to feel uneasy.

Will left work that evening without knowing what had happened to Bruce. He’d even tried calling him several times on his home number. Later that night there was an email message from Bruce sent to Will’s personal account. He was certain something was wrong now. Will took a deep breath before opening it. “Hi Will. Got your messages. I need to understand what happened? I’m back at the house now, please give me a call.” Will tried calling him a couple of times that evening but never managed to reach him.

The next day Will started asking around, especially the Fast Access project team members. One of them told him that Valerie had called earlier in the week and asked for an evaluation of Bruce’s performance on the project. “Yeah, you know Bruce has been doing a good job in a very difficult situation. I don’t think anyone could manage it better given the circumstances. Do you?” Will was embarrassed to admit that it was all news to him. “No one asked me for an evaluation and I’ve been closer to the situation than anyone else!” Will resisted the temptation make a run directly at Valerie or Marco. “I’ll make them come explain this me.” A short time later there was a call on his cell phone, it was Bruce.

“I got your messages. You don’t know what happened? “ There was a hint of distrust in his voice. “No Bruce, you tell me”. “I didn’t think you could have had anything to do with this Will. I told my friends how much I enjoyed working with you.” There was a touch of sadness in his voice but also sarcastic edge. “Bruce, I’m willing to help. What did they tell you?” There was a long pause. Finally Bruce said “I got a call from Dannon on Monday night. They told me the contract was cancelled and not to come in Tuesday. Of course I wanted an explanation, but the only thing they offered was that Valerie had called and asked Dannon to inform me. They couldn’t figure out what happened either, they said Valerie was not very communicative. So I tried to call Valerie. You’d think she’d have the guts to explain it to me? Right? Well I didn’t hear a damn thing from her. So I called Dannon back again and told them I need to understand what was the rational for this. No one had ever told me that I wasn’t doing the job or gave any indication that something like this might happen. So Dannon calls me back last night and tells me Giant was under some pressure with the budget and decided they didn’t need a contractor. Have they told you anything about the budget?” Will was stunned but he thought it important to be straight with Bruce. “I spoke to Teresa today and she told me Valerie was asking about you. And she told Valerie you were making a good contribution in a tough situation but there was nothing, absolutely nothing said about the budget. But damn Bruce, you need to understand the way that Giant deals with contractors. There’s nothing you can do about this without digging a deeper hole for yourself. I’ve been through this kind of thing. It’s better to move on and focus on what you are going to do next.” Bruce was distraught and kept talking about the circumstances behind his dismissal. Will felt compelled to interrupt, knowing it could do nothing to help. “Bruce, lets focus on your next job, I believe I can help you. There are other people here we can get in touch with that would be happy to help you as well. Lets focus on that. Get your resume ready and if you want, send it over to me. I get job leads every once in a while. I can send them on to you. Start thinking about what you’d like to do so I can help find the right match.” Bruce’s voice was choking as he tried to answer. “I told my friends you were a good person Will. I knew you couldn’t have had anything to do with this. Thanks for everything man. Thanks for giving me an opportunity. I appreciate it, you know it. You are one of the good ones. I’ll get back to you when I’ve figured out what I can do next. The agency is going to start looking for me too.” “Ok Brucke, let me know what happens. You can call me anytime here at work.” There wasn’t anything more that Will could think of to say. “Hey Will, I hope you understand. I need closure on this and I’m not going to give up until I get a straight story. I need to understand what went wrong if for no other reason than to avoid repeating this experience again!”

Will was furious with Valerie but best judgment called for him to wait this out . It seemed likely she pulled Bruce off the project to appease DJ. But he would never know for sure.
That night Will felt sickened by the whole situation. He felt like someone had punched him in the stomach. He couldn’t blame himself. Not this time. Thinking about it made him feel bad, but the thought of not thinking about it seemed even worse. Maybe it was good to feel pain like this, it was proof that he was not stuck in the corporate mud like so many of them. Will didn’t get much sleep that night.

The next day Will received a phone call from Valerie. “I guess you are wondering about Bruce. There has been a management decision to cut some budget from this project because it was taking too long to complete. But I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know you’ve been doing a good job and have nothing to worry about.” Will tried to hold back his temper. “Well I didn’t see anything wrong with Bruce. He was the messenger.
Moving Bruce out doesn’t make the real problem go away. DJ’s team was stalling! What am I missing? I’ve been involved with this project too. I reviewed the budget and didn’t see this coming at all.” Valerie decided to try another tactic that she felt might work better. “Will, I was talking to DJ at length on Monday. The truth is we’ve all been spoiled by having you involved with the project. Bruce doesn’t add value like you do. He just moves numbers and dates around on a spreadsheet. We’ve come to expect a lot more than that.” Will wasn’t buying the flattery approach either. “Valerie, I’m not sure that anyone can get very far with DJ unless they unless they agree to do everything his way. He’s got his own agenda here and you are letting him shove it down our throats.” Valerie had gone along as far as she was willing to go. “Ok Will, I’ll let you figure it out. I was just trying to keep you in the loop. I didn’t expect that you were going to argue with me about Bruce. That train is already left the station. If you were smart, you’d take this opportunity and run with it.” Valerie put down the phone without waiting for an answer.

The next day Will was in Marco’s office. “That was a career limiting move to talk to Valerie like that. Sometimes its better to keep your thoughts to yourself. You need to save ammunition. You just shot at the wrong person and now she’s pissed off. Reset the target. I need you to go after DJ now. If you think he’s been manipulating Valerie, here’s your opportunity to show everyone how you would handle things.”

Will never ceased to be amazed by the way Marco looked at things as if it were all one big drama with all these interesting little intrigues. How was it that he could work with this guy who was Machiavellian to the core? Will guessed that Marco’s redeeming features were that he was anti-stubborn, liked good ideas, and finally, most important, Marco had this awareness of a great big world out there where anything might be possible and one could never know everything. Marco could live with that, it made life more interesting.

“Marco, don’t you think Bruce was treated unfairly in all this?” Marco lowered his voice and began speaking slowly and evenly. “With a project like this one, it had to end badly for somebody….” Will interrupted him. “Lets just be glad its not you or I, right?” “Now really Will, are you going to take care of yourself? Stop dancing on the edge of a cliff! If you do your job right and stand up to all the bastards, there’s always going to be stress and shit to work through. Let me tell you how I deal with it. Ever been to a shooting range? (Marco assumed aiming position, making believe he had a weapon) “Blam! Blam! Best way to relieve stress there is.” Marco smiled and waved at Will to indicate it was time for him to leave. Will wondered what went through his mind as his eyes locked in on the target. “Marco, you really are a lucky bastard, aren’t you?” He went back to his office and turned out the lines and went home.

The End

Created by Bill Keys

No comments: