Stories from the Field, #1: Learn how to push back

(note: all “Stories from the Field” are true, thinly anonymized to protect the -usually- guilty)

Teammate: (goes to a big and important customer)

Customer: I want a software like this and that

Customer: And I want it yesterday

Project Manager: They want it yesterday

Teammate: But I need a bit more time in order to implement some UI checks, so that users don’t make mistakes

Customer: Our users don’t make mistakes, they are permanent employees for so many years, they know their job

Teammate: Hmmmokey

Teammate: (implements software in just a few days)

Teammate: (delivers)

Customer: (installs)

Users: (use the software)

Users: (literally fuck up everything that is possible and some things that are not)

Customer: WHY ARE THE DATA WRONG

Teammate: …but you said…

Customer: you’re not good I want another one

Project Manager: Jim you’re assigned to this

Jim: I will rewrite it from zero and I will implement these UI checks plus many many more

Customer: I WANT IT YESTERDAY

Project Manager: THEY WANT IT YESTERDAY

Jim: (doesn’t give a shit)

Jim: (writes code anywhere, anytime, day, night, while eating, while getting the baby to sleep, while helping his wife with breastfeeding etc etc)

Jim: (delivers)

Customer: Why is this 40MB this is bigger than the previous one I don’t like this

Jim: (loses his shit and starts screaming)

Customer: Jeez why are you so nervous you need to calm down

Customer: (installs)

Users: (use the software)

Users: OH HEY THIS WORKS

Users: IT HAS HELPFUL COLOURS TOO

Users: AND IT HAS EXPLANATIONS FOR EACH FIELD

Users: THIS IS GREAT

Customer: great job Jim, see I told you the first guy was not good

Jim: (silently curses in languages he doesn’t even speak)

Note: to be fair, the “40MB” complaint wasn’t as irrational as it sounds. The software had to be copied to many client computers, some of them in remote parts of the country with slow lines; this was still the days of ISDN. Still, the refactoring was worth it. The added volume was caused by a reporting library (Crystal Reports for .Net) which solved many problems by itself. I now understand the frustration of the customer’s IT as someone had to stay up all night copying. But the pressure from management was so much that at this point the poor guy just said the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person. Elias if you ever read this, please accept my apologies 😊

2 thoughts on “Stories from the Field, #1: Learn how to push back”

    1. It is 😊 It’s also terrifying because you’re essentially betting with your career. If this goes wrong everyone will go “see, we told him X and he did something else”. You need to be sure, really really sure and confident to be able to pull that off.

      It also helped that I had seen this fail, already, and the other guy (you might even remember him, Andreas) had taken the blame, undeservingly.

      Fortunately in this instance, it worked -so much so, that the project manager once told me “I got tired of getting congratulatory emails for this project” 😄

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