Archive for March, 2015

March 15, 2015

March 15–Day 330–Mile Only

With just over a month to go – am starting to be conservative so I get to my running streak of 365 days in a row.

  • Miles: 1.0
  • Pace: 7.49
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March 15, 2015

Friends at the Edge

I started an essay back in 2004; it wasn’t ready yet so it just occupied space on my computer. In 2008 I updated it a bit, but it still wasn’t ready.

The title was a play on words: for years I literally had friends at The Edge of the World Theater –we called it “The Edge”.

But I’ve also had friends on the edge – challenges with relationships, physical and emotional health, employment, and a lot more.  I was thinking a lot about the nature of friendship, and how mine are so wonderfully varied.

This week one of my friends from the theatre passed away, and I’ve been thinking a lot about him in particular, but also about my friends from that time.

I’ve flirted with theatre more than I’ve had a relationship with it. And perhaps some of the emotional importance of my theatre friends is due to the sheer intensity of a show: night after night, week after week, and most of the time – laying bare pretty much everything. Too hard to have a lot of pretense when working that hard. And I think some, too, is because those were formative times for us. We were hitting our stride, confident, ready to take on big challenges, and make a big difference in ways that were important to us.

Anyway – not sure that my essay is done, but now that Thomas has stepped past the edge, I wanted to share it.

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Friends at the Edge

I’ve got a lot of these: Drug addictions, unemployment, dire relationships, medical complications and more. Lately, I’ve been looking for some common thread (besides the accident of me) that ties these things together and what makes a friend.

I’ve just found out that a local theatre company that has been home to me off and on for close to fifteen years seems to have shut its doors. And while some of the players have moved on (and some have moved) some also remain the same – or at least constant. This rather small group of people reminds me that people do change, that relationships are static and dynamic all at the same time, and that kindness and compassion spring from sources both likely and not.

Roger has been the music director from the very beginning, and these past fifteen years have brought him many changes: He’s been divorced, quit drinking and smoking, took a full time job somewhere besides the theatre. And in the midst of these rather remarkable changes, he hasn’t changed at all. He remains one of the wittiest men I’ve ever met (and I’ve met a lot!) and has a capacity for kindness that seems rather limitless. I remember one show when an actor arrived at the theatre in poor shape – had just learned of a suicide. He’d barely hit the door before he began apologizing for what he felt would be a distracted performance on his part. Roger, without even waiting for the end of the sentence, was up and across the stage to embrace him. At the time, I was working at an agency with a Christian mission statement – and I had an immediate sense that the folks at my day job wouldn’t have responded nearly as well.

During a run, Roger, (with much eye rolling and sarcasm) also fixed my guitar amplifier, brought strings, a strap, some additional gear, a harmonica and an inordinate amount of patience with my playing. Clearly, Roger and I are friends.

And yet – Roger and I see each other maybe once every eighteen months or so, and rarely correspond in between. Over the past twelve years, I’ve probably performed in 10 shows with Roger – that’s maybe a year in actual time. Despite the fractured nature of our time together – I also know that I could phone Roger from jail at 4:00 in the morning and he’d come and fetch me. You can see that I’m re-thinking what it means to be a friend.

There’s another person at the theatre, too, whom I’ve known for about the same time. In that time we’ve lost a friend to cancer, I played at her wedding, and was around for her divorce. Lori and I have been in perhaps five shows together. Granted, a show is intense – five or six weeks of 5-7 nights a week. And we’ve played a few gigs together, too, and mourned the loss of that friend. And somehow – Lori knows me. One night after the show the cast was out for a drink, and someone asked me what I did for a living. “I work for a tech company”, I said, and Lori immediately looked stricken. She reached out and touched me, so I continued, “It’s a nonprofit, and I help other nonprofits”, I said, and Lori relaxed and a beautiful smile crossed her face. “I just so think of you as a do-gooder”, she said, “It would be so weird if that weren’t true.”

I was deeply touched. Somehow, despite the small amount of time that we’ve spent together, Lori knows one of my essential truths. Clearly, Lori and I are friends.

And then there are the people who I just don’t see anymore. Richard, Kathleen, Steven, Thomas, Doug, Mark. We’re all in touch. When we are anywhere near each other, we visit. I know what they are all up to, where they are, and (I like to think, anyway) the important truths about them. So, even though we only connect at the edges these days – it’s a pretty strong connection.

And I have other friends on the edge. A college friend and long-time music buddy is in the throes of beating an addiction. (So far, so good). We don’t see each other much anymore, either: I’m a part of an old story for him – and while I wasn’t a part of the addiction story – you can imagine how late nights, music, and cold beer went together all those years – and now – not so much.

Another friend is at the edge in a different way – he’s still making music full time. Most of my music buddies from back in the day are mortgaged and married – and late nights and erratic paychecks aren’t in the cards for them anymore. But Joe has managed to keep singing and playing. He’s made a commitment to doing what he loves, and ‘tho I think that puts him at the edge for some – in other ways – he’s right at the center of where he wants to be. You can imagine that our paths don’t cross nearly enough, but when they do, it’s pretty spectacular. Joe sang at my wedding recently, and one of my other guests wanted to know why he wasn’t famous yet.

And now one of my friends, Thomas Arthur Grant, has stepped over the edge; he passed away this week. I’ve been thinking a lot about him.

We were in Godspell together, a musical from the early 70’s. It’s the Gospel of Matthew, set to music.

Thomas was tall, elegant, handsome, and with a huge, open smile.

Despite it being November (or maybe even December), our friend Richard convinced us all to go white water rafting before the Sunday show. I can’t remember many of the details, but remember it was fun, wet, cold, and then even colder, particularly at the end when we had to wait for someone to come and pick us up.

I was freezing, and Thomas noticed. I can’t remember if he said anything, but he wrapped his arms around me and pulled me into a gigantic bear hug. The physical warmth was almost immediate – I have no idea how he could have had any warmth to share. The warmth from his kindness warms me to this day.

When I found out that Thomas had passed, I found an old copy of the soundtrack, and went for a run in the rain. I don’t have any pictures from that show; but I can remember in detail the smile on his face, the part in one of the tunes where he’d catch my eye and play a little air guitar along with me. And I remember the way he would move from prone to full height, to strike a pose – everything from his toes to his fingers a perfect, straight line.

So. Theatre friends. Music friends. Friends in trouble. The more I think about it, almost all of my friends are at an edge, one way or the other. And that’s good.

-Patrick Shaw

2004 and 2008 and 2015

March 7, 2015

First Week on the Rescue Project

It’s your first day on the project and although no one said out loud you need to rescue the project, you do. There’s a reason there’s been a switch, and most of the time people will be too polite to say out loud that your predecessor was failing. So here’s how to get started:

Don’t Read The Scope of Work

That’s right. Do NOT read the scope of work. There will be plenty time for that later. But the problem isn’t the scope of work, it’s that no one else really read it either. So here’s what you do instead:

Think of the project like a multi-layered cake. On the bottom, you have developers and QA folks – they’re doing the real work. Next layer up is the product or project manager. They think they’re doing the work. And the top layer? That’s the person writing the check. Sure – you can slice this into more layers, but 3 should get you started.

Meet with as many people on the bottom layer as you can, and ask them what they are doing. Don’t let them fetch the scope either, and make it conversational. Take notes.

Repeat with the middle layer. Take notes.

Finish up at the top. You can probably see where this is going already: the person writing the check thinks one thing, the product manager a second thing and the developers a third. There you go. That’s probably why your project is in crisis.

Figure Out How They Do Their Work

You have two broad categories here, Agile and Waterfall.

If it’s a waterfall process, find a whiskey barrel, get in it, and throw yourself off a cliff while holding a Gantt chart. You’ll have about as much success managing the project as surviving the fall.

If an agile process, your odds just went up. But you’ll want to know a lot more about what their version is really like. Do they say agile but mean waterfall? Are they actually delivering code to production at the end of each sprint? Those things matter, and they’ll help you understand how things are actually working. The tug of war between methodologies is strong, and even the most agile of shops can get pulled into waterfall processes and procedures. You won’t be able to change those, but if you understand, your odds go up.

Understand Their Technology

This can be challenging; your job isn’t to do the the actual work – but you should understand in broad terms how the project team is going about theirs.

  • If it’s a website project, you’ll want to know what tools they use to generate graphics, what technologies are in play on their live website (HTML, CSS, JavaScript and a lot more, probably), how they host their website (on premises, with a vendor, in the cloud), and how they publish changes.
  • If it’s a database project, you’ll want to get answers to the same questions about where (on premise, hosted, both) as well as to know the fundamental tools (SQL, MySQL, Salesforce, something else).
  • Mobile? Even more fun. What devices, what operating systems, what handsets, which app stores and so on.
  • Infrastructure? Swell. Domain names, routing, switching, fail over and redundancy and so on.

Again – you don’t need to be a domain expert, but you need to know the building blocks of the project you are managing.

Understand Their Culture

There are entire books written about this, and about how culture is perhaps the most important thing to know and understand at a place of business. You won’t be able to absorb it all right away, but you can ask yourself a few questions to get a sense:

  • Are their motivational posters on the wall?
  • Are people afraid to disagree with one another (or worse) their boss?
  • Is shoddy work tolerated?
  • Are people rewarded for following the rules?
  • Does your tech team sit far away from everyone else?
  • Does everyone come and go at the same time?

Here’s a shortcut: if you were looking for a full time job, and they offered it to you, would you really want to say yes? That’s a good sign. No? Not so much.

Now Read The Scope

You’re still in the first week – take a look at that scope. Make a copy for you, and mark it up. You may as well get the latest budget numbers and date estimates, too. Don’t get me wrong – those are all good things to know, and you’ll need to track those carefully to be successful. But merely tracking those things won’t make you successful – you need the other things on this list to do that.

There you go – a task for each day of your first week on the rescue project.

Looking for more tips? Try these on for size:

Patrick’s Top 21 Project Management Tips

What Makes Great Project Management Software?

Becoming a Technical Project Manager

Sent Your Iron Triangle to the Scrap Heap

Waterfall or Agile?