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December 15, 1999
a year ago
two years ago

Communication

Today was a busy day. Since Bob was here, it was a good time to talk through with him and everyone in the group about all the coordination things that needed to be done. There were quite a number of things that had to be done at about the same time among three or more people, in order to solidify some of the underlying database. There are also things that needed to be coordinated with the GUI and the interface to the database. I had introduced a lot of changes adding more abstract levels to the way the classes were perceived. So most of the day was eaten up by small meetings that included all the people that were affected.

For most of the last week I had been bothered by rumor and jokes about a name that was going to be applied to our product and our application. It is actually a very small point, as customers care more about how everything works than what it is called. My main problem with what was happening was the process, or lack thereof, and the fact that everyone I could hear was making fun of the official name. I don't want something that I had spent years working on having a name that people laugh at. I really didn't think I could do much about it, this time around, because the deadline is getting too close for comfort; however, with as many people being upset about the process this time there was room to make it better next time.

So at the engineering meeting I asked if any decision had been made, and when the answer was something incoherent I decided it was time to clarify what was going on. It was probably one of the scariest things I've ever done. I really didn't want to make anyone angry, but I also didn't want folks to just get away with what looked like a secret and dictorial process which hadn't taken into account the amount of dedication the whole development group had put into the product. The group included everyone from technical publications and support to technical marketing and the engineers. In effect, I had to speak for more than 20 people. The email I had seen go by from non-technical marketing had been incoherent and somewhat off-the-cuff about the name, hardly respectful.

Don't get me wrong, so far, this has been the only break down of process I have seen in this company. Most of the really important decisions have been made with buy in by everyone in the group. This decision, however, was being made by an outside party, who hadn't really understood what was going on within the group. If this is the worst it gets, it's pretty darn good.

Anyway, I spent a good are were putting together a letter that seem to express everything I was hearing from everyone around me. It turned out to be everything I wanted to be. After it went out I had one engineer pull me over to tell me that it was exactly what he wanted to say. That was very useful as a gauge to how well I had encapsulated how people felt. It was really funny to get the reactions from both my boss and my boss' boss. John was in stitches, mostly over the fact that, according to him I basically said that the emperor had no clothes. I think he likes it when I do that. No one was particularly hopeful of a short-term change and I finished the letter late enough that most other folks had already gone home.

It was, however, a rather scary place to be. I think that a lot of it was that for most of my life I haven't spoken up when I see things go wrong. A long-time habit of just keeping my head down and being quiet and just going my own way if things aren't working. Too many times I've just quit instead of communicated and while this wasn't even close to being at that level, there was the possible start of such a thing. And I didn't want that to happen in this situation. It was frightening, however, to say anything. Not because of any actual consequence, but because of what could happen.

So it was scary to speak up, but I was glad that I did and could. It was even better when other people helped to validate not only my words but my feelings. Sometimes important truths have to be backed up by emotion, not just logic. That's something I'm gradually learning as I work my way through what communication really means in a big company.

So John and I went home.

Tomorrow is our celebratory party. Mario got his Ph.D. and Bob is in town, so the whole group is going out, as usual. It is supposed to be a French restaurant that has gotten good reviews, but John reminds me how disappointed I have been in local restaurants. We'll see how it goes.

Brought to you by Dragon System's Point & Speak.

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