From smack-bang in the middle of the bell curve

Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page

Anatomy of a meeting

In blah, email, work on April 26, 2010 at 7:42 am

“Why don’t you setup some time to brainstorm this”. The most productivity-destroying words uttered within office spaces. BCP-DR Plans (Business Continuity – Disaster Recovery) that focus on earthquakes, tsunamis and peaceful party protests have nothing on the biggest threat to corporations; The meeting.

Naxals and other so-called freedom-fighters rely on ripping up railway tracks to disrupt normally productive life. In the white-collar world, all it takes is a Microsoft Outlook invite.

You can either be the unwitting inviter or the invitee. If you’re the inviter (or ‘Meeting Organizer’), you have the enviable task of finding simultaneously blank space across all calendars in question. A task that google has developed algorithms to do in their calendar application! (so much for jokes about it being rocket science to set up meetings) The first attempt at a suggested date/time is knocked back with disdain with reasons like “Will be on a flight” or “Will be 3am in the timezone I’ll be in”. Few iterations later they’ll be whittled down to one troublemaker who says “I’ll be in between flights and can do 25 mins provided the improbable happens and flights are delayed”. A date/time is setup.

Come the appointed time and all shuffle into a suitably darkened conference room with the first optimistic slide projected on screen. The participants settle in as the organizer runs through the introductory/background material. Every now and then a low buzz is heard, followed by the owner reaching for his bberry to read critical emails about “scheduled downtime of the company’s email server in Bratislava” or enlargement of certain organs. Every now and then one of the bberry owners picks up their buzzing phone to dive out while mumbling their apologies and whispering into the device that they would be interested to know more about the latest unobtainium credit card that Standard Chartered had to offer.

Meanwhile the meeting meanders. Until coming to rest and asking, “any suggestions?”. Pause. Longer pause. Someone mumbles about wanting to deep-dive into the background material to which the organizer mentions that it’s the same document that was sent to all attendees 3 weeks ago. The smarter ones have already been overtly (not covertly) glancing at their watch as they cite other meetings beginning milliseconds after this one ends. There are closing comments directed at the organizer about “great work”, “we should build on this”. “Why don’t you schedule time next week” as the participants dissipate.

Total man hours spent: 16 hours. (Time spent organizing: 4 hours. Man hours attending: 12 hours)
No. of inputs: Eh?
Dilbert strip forward email about meetings received by the group in the middle of the meeting leading to chuckles: priceless.

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IT “Help!”….Desk!

In blah, email, rant, work on April 17, 2010 at 8:16 am

The early part of the week downloaded an interesting email into my official inbox. It was first thing in the morning and I had opened the digital version of the plastic tray with the large “IN” taped on it with scotch tape. The usual 60-odd new emails message appeared as they started downloading. Every professional today probably has their own sophisticated system of email management. There are folders, colours, message alerts, all that serve as your personal secretary, filing information by priority and urgency (not necessarily related). Being a follower of the Pareto school of thought, the foundation of my system is to identify the emails addressed only to me and to not bother about the rest since they can usually be ignored until someone checks. Outlook therefore has express instructions to show the ones sent only to me in blue in the inbox. The rest usually group themselves into three categories.

Independence: Working at a firm that’s makes most of its money from being official pains-in-the-client-ass, namely audit means there are stringent requirements to ensure no vested interests are spawned, even unknowingly. Hence, Independence emails that serve to inform you that so-and-so Ltd. was now a client and that we had 3 days to sever all dealings with them. There have known to be instances where employees have hurtled out of moving automobiles on learning that the carmaker was the latest big win. Die-hard company loyalists are not averse to refusing to compromise their ‘Independence’ by refusing the last and only batch of a life-saving drug made by a company they audit.

Support Functions: The paradoxically named departments (namely Finance, HR and IT). This discussion only considers Finance and IT since HR does exemplary work. The fact that appraisals and wage hike decisions are around the corner has nothing to do with it. For functions that are quietly expected to ‘support’ the rest of the organization go about their business, these guys have a lot to share. And a lot of what they say has the word ‘policy’ in it. The usual clutch of emails from Finance about the deadline for submitting expenses that have not yet incurred or reminders of how they only accepted sworn statements from landlords signed in blood (not necessarily theirs) as proof of tenancy. I’ll come back to IT.

Hail Marys: In large organizations, there are many people. Astute observation. And so these many people are organized into departments, teams, subteams and so on. This means when someone needs something done, they have the enviable task of identifying the right team for it. Since, given the movement of people in and out and the reorganizations and the promptness at which Org charts and contacts are updated, most senior folk resort to the American Football tactic of lobbing their work requests high and far and send it to as many people as they can muster with the idea that the right person would be among the recipients and would promptly proceed to deliver exemplary service. Who am I throttle their optimism.

Coming back to IT. The email, inspite of not being emblazoned with the blue that some others did, including those from clients with subject lines like “WTF?!”, caught my attention. With a gleam in my eye, I opened the email with subject “IT Helpdesk Support Feedback”. Satisfied that it wasn’t a Nigerian scam email, I clicked on the link to open the survey page and went to town. Maybe it was the fact that the name “IT Helpdesk” in their case only makes sense as the name of a B-grade thriller based on a killer desk that goes on the rampage and makes it victims cry “Help”. It certainly not because it takes a median 7 calls to get them to send their swat team to your rescue. Or the fact that their resolution to problems ranging from “how do i find this file I saved?” to “my 5 year old threw it from our 15th storey apartment balcony” is to “format the hard drive”. Or it could even be that when a virus had disabled my anti-virus program, they were unable to uninstall it since they (the IT team) didn’t have the admin password required to uninstall. Or maybe I was just being plain mean.

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