Mediocrity is acceptable -- at least according to one company where I spent some time. I've been in IT for 25 years and have tackled many a consulting project. On occasion, I told myself I'd seen it all, but of course, something else always lurked around the corner.
In this instance, I was assigned to a project at a company that provided electronic educational material to schools. My job was as a technical lead/architect of a team developing a new program. I found out later that I was the third person to fill that role on the team within a year.
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I'd say it was a team in name only, as most of the time the group appeared to think they were socializing rather than doing a job. I secretly nicknamed the members "The Three Stooges." One stooge was egomaniacal without any justification for that attitude. Another was elusive, refusing to make eye contact, but was the best worker out of the group. And the third thought he was king of the world, having been at that client for a few years -- yet comically knowing very little.
Who was the fearless leader of the stooges? Again, someone with the title in name only. The project lead was disorganized, couldn't keep a meeting on track, never had clear goals or directions, and didn't seem to care what happened day to day. Under these conditions, chaos begat chaos.
The products reflected the company's confusion. Even the most recent releases seemed outdated, and they always had problems. I started wondering to myself how the company was staying afloat -- and the question popped up more and more frequently as time went on.
Some crashes are OK
I'd been hired to assist with a program that was nearing deployment, and the project lead determined he didn't need my direct involvement on its development. Instead, he reassigned me to help with a performance testing strategy, which I very quickly discovered was not a step this company usually took before rolling out new products.
This particular product was causing numerous system crashes stemming from memory issues and client load, which was around 200. When I put it through a stress test environment in the cloud, it was obvious that this application could not stand up even if it had six legs, due to bad design, poor architecture, and lack of oversight.
I took my findings to the project lead and recommended a total overhaul of the product. He shrugged and said we didn't need to go that far. It would work well enough if we could minimize how often it crashed, and don't worry about the rest.
Though I'd seen enough to not be surprised by this lax attitude, I still was aghast that he didn't seem at all concerned about rolling out an obviously subpar product. Nonetheless, I pinpointed a few areas for improvement. They were made and, voilà, the worst of the crashes stopped. Though still unreliable, the product was released.
Different project, same scenario
I was assigned to another project at this company and relived the same scenario all over again. The timeline, scope, and expectations for the project were impossible. At the outset, the vendor that was helping produce content for this assignment had received technical direction to "make it so" -- then no other word besides our frequent changes in delivery schedule. The project was on track to go over a cliff.
Meawhile, the Three Stooges showed their ignorance and attitude on a daily basis by goofing off, making tech error after error, and not seeming the least bit bothered. In a way, who could blame them? The project lead didn't seem to care what happened.
There was no documentation, no resources, no regular meeting attendance, no direction, no decision-making, no nothing. Time and again, one of the stooges would look around the room and say, "What do you think about doing X with the project -- should we or shouldn't we?" Someone would mumble in reply, and that'd be the extent of the discussion. The "agile" approach was more like a social hour where instead of getting sprint status, it was "Hey, did you see the game last night?" or "Yes, that is done: proceed to test," though at no time was "done" defined.
I guess the silver lining to my time at this company is that I now know to avoid it. I have children in school, and I'm glad their classrooms don't use this company's products -- you'd better believe I checked -- and I feel really bad for those that do. But the company's days are most likely numbered. No business can survive the way they're running theirs.
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