What Went Wrong

Thursday, June 03, 2010

I'd like to restart this blog by putting a closure on the most recent chapter of my life. Visitors of this site may have noticed that for the last few months (or better part of this year anyway) I really haven't been putting any real effort in updating regularly. That's because I simply did not have either the time or energy to put anything worth reading here. I've always looked at my blog as a place where I can practice my writing by putting my best ideas up in published form so I can read up on them again after I've forgotten what I've written about.

In other words, the primary audience of the blog is me, six months later. If I feel that I'm in no condition to write anything that will be worth reading by my standards, I will not write anything, on the grounds that the future me will cease to be impressed and throw a time travelling chokeslam at me that will render me unable to read my own writing. (See Wikipedia: Chokeslam Paradox; the effects of)

Anyway, here's a short account of what happened with my previous work:

August 2009, my immediate supervisor, Ryan was removed from his position without being given due process. We protested as a team, and was largely ignored. Upper management asked if I wanted to take on his position and if I could. I told them sure, but it's going to be tough. I was assured of a title adjustment and a salary adjustment starting September. I wanted to become a manager and have been training for it, but admittedly, this happened too soon. Hoping to learn on the job, I agreed. Seriously, who doesn't want a bitchin' Section Manager title? So far, so good. (as a note though, even though the adjustment didn't become effective at once, my overtime perk was canceled on the spot. In other words, my salary actually dropped)

Before Ryan left, we did a review of our team for the appraisals. We did our best to create a symmetric bell curve distribution with average and above/below average performers. We gave these results to the team and they were largely happy with the results.

September 2009, The final copy of the ratings was reviewed by HR and upper management. The scores provided by Ryan and me were translated into another scoring system that basically ranked everybody down. In the end, despite our team being one of the most profitable in the company, we got the lowest average score. I personally got an F from a scale of A-H, with A being the highest. And my result is already above average. During the HR review, people were given verbal notices of lack of performance, sometimes exaggerated, sometimes unsubstantiated, and generally depressing. Those lucky enough to get any adjustment got paltry sums not even higher than 1000 pesos per month. (I got 300 peso increase. That's 15 pesos a day. I call it MRT subsidy. Everybody calls it bullshit.)

I talk to management and tell them the team has been demoralized. I explained the error in computing the results. Management admits their mistake, but tells me it's all a done deal so nothing can be done, and that they'll do better next year. (hint: as of writing there isn't even a plan for appraisals yet, which should start this month) I tell them people will leave the company if it does not get corrected. Management replies by promising the realignment/promotion that will come AFTER the appraisals. A comment was made that for those who don't like how things are done, they are free to leave. Seeing that we're not exactly the most overstaffed team in the world, I found the idea ridiculous.

November 2009, nothing happens. I now directly report to the Department Manager Christine, with whom I share inherited tasks from Ryan. More work comes from the client, and requests for additional staff to replace our losses from Ryan's departure are turned down, because we could not maximize staff utilization. (I can explain long and hard here why the utilization metrics is just as flawed, but just take my word for it: it's stupid, and our management actually agreed to it at the beginning of our contract with our client)

December 2009, Management decides to boot Christine from the team as well, to be replaced by Jun, some newcomer who already got rejected by the other team. He promises to turn around our low utilization metrics and upper management falls in love immediately. Once again, we beg that Christine be retained for her familiarity with the client. The protest falls into deaf ears. (at this point, you get the pattern. I won't mention protests as much as possible as I kinda did those every bloody step of the way anyway). I've long suspected that upper management has intended to clean the team of the original management to reduce resistance to their administration so this may be yet another sign. With Christine gone, my last semblance of upper authority vanished.

Personally, I regard Jun as the typical clueless management who will have to be babysitted by those under him since he practically knows nothing about how we do our work. To be fair with him, no matter who they placed in lieu of Christine, I'd have the same opinion.

Before the end of the month, Cristian, one of our best developers, finally resigns on grounds of a really bad appraisal coupled with allegations of negative client reviews, despite the fact that we've had very positive feedback from the client about him (hint: upper management lied, and as far as our theory goes, it's to justify the abysmal salary increases)

January 2010, Jun finally enters the picture. I tell him I have no reason to trust him unless he proves himself useful by fixing the demoralized staff and the billing system. Kenneth, my VB counterpart also resigns, citing the same reasons as Cristian. Jun's recommendation pushes our requests for new staff through, although he later recants the request on the idea that he wants to conduct lateral hiring first to tap into the resources of the other team which until then was not earning as a unit. Two developers are added from the other team, Will and Antz. We also get one developer trainee, Jared. Antz was immediately attached to a special project so we only have Will to replace the manpower lost so far. (mostly from my drop in throughput in development due to management tasks) These additional people had to be trained by the existing, already overloaded staff.

On top of my tasks, I am now burdened with supporting Jun's need to know about the operations, and the tasks Christine used to perform were passed on to me because Jun will also be handling Malaysia and Thailand operations on top of ours.

To recap, upper management took off two of my superiors, demoralized my team, and gave me a manager that I have to "train".

The adjustment/promotion promised sometime last august never materializes, except for the release of the org chart. My title as section manager is adjusted to team leader, which to my understanding is the equivalent of Lead Analyst from our old chart. My responsibilities have not only stayed the same, it also grew since I still could not abandon my Lead Analyst roles on top of my new Section Manager roles. I start dialogues regarding my job description and the promised salary adjustment, although I put priority in the former. I was given the description of the Team Lead role, and it had nothing about project management, which is the bulk of my responsibilities. I ask for a description of the Project Manager role, wich is the role higher than my current. HR replies that it is not yet ready.

Jun "fixes" the billing by moving the job titles of the people "up" but only for billing purposes. Developers are billed as senior developers, without any promotion on the employee's side. Meanwhile, the client starts expecting the developers to act like seniors, putting more pressure to the staff for zero motivation. Still, I call this acceptable and say that I'll be more cooperative from that point on.

February 2010, Bryan resigns from the team, bringing the total number of VB developers in our group down to 1 compared to 5 last year (including Ryan). It's interesting that sometime late last year, upper management threatened to nuke the entire team if they performed badly (they never did). More restrictions are put into place.

March 2010, Alvin and Rhen, two of our Java developers signal that the resignations are now affecting the Java subgroup as well. I implore Jun and upper management to attempt to reverse their decisions, which the two say are still open for negotiations. I make an ultimatum that if the two leave, we will have reached Peak Loading for the team, and any new staff can no longer be trained as replacement due to the heavy loads of existing teams. Jun simply says that hiring is slower than expected and there's nothing we can do about it.

Marock, another developer, also files for resignation. With Rhen, Marock and Alvin resigning, the only staff left for one of our more specialized project groups is reduced from four to one in a matter of weeks.

No new hires could be given in time for transferring the knowledge of the three to new people. Meanwhile, upper management considers the drop in efficiency of the team as unexpected and unacceptable. Management dictates that the team is now required to fill out laborious effort reports every day on top of their duties, to make sure everybody is productive. Irony abound.

Gnet, one of our seniors is asked by Jun to go to the client site to become an embedded analyst. No replacements can be found for her roles. The plan pushes through anyway.

Management finally hears my complaints out after I start sending more demanding emails. They give me an adjustment, about 25% of the expected amount. The retropayment starting August never comes, and I was told I now owe the company a favor for it because they don't usually do that sort of thing (hint: they do). No other teammates get adjustments. My roles are still not on paper and my job description remains unchanged. Upon talking to Jun, he proposes to give me a special "team lead" classification that will contain project management roles, and it will be on paper, although the paper can't be used for public purposes. (in other words, we'll play a game of pretend-you're-a-manager)

April 2010, the entire QA department is dissolved in exchange for a smaller group, and a QC subteam is formed in our team comprising of the former QA members. I become their immediate superior as well. I plan for the QC team to help in analyst work on the grounds that they will no longer serve as QC for outsourced projects from other vendors. That will let developers do what they do best. The client agrees, but reverses the decision afterwards. (so in effect, no effort can be obtained from the new members, and I have more responsibilities now) I request for the addition of the former lead into the team to prevent the further ballooning of my roles, but the QA head does not approve and retains the lead in the new independent QA team.

Jun, probably scared that I am already holding too much responsibility to fail, answers my calls for new staff by proposing to add a new project manager to the team. I will be the technical lead and the new PM will handle the management roles, directly against what I agreed upon with upper management. I disagree to this and ask if the new PM can perform as a senior dev instead. Request declined. I raise the possibility of promoting the senior staff instead. Once again, declined.

By April, the critical load scenario happens. Staff resign without achieving the required 80% knowledge transfer completion. Knowledge transfer eats up productivity and the QC team reintegration further hampers progress. Some projects are dropped wholesale. Management still refuses to acknowledge the bleeding of the team and is furious at the drop of billable hours.

This is the point that I decide that there simply is nothing I can hope for in the company.

1. I am no longer getting promoted. It is already clear that the Project Manager role is reserved to some other person by Jun (who turns out to be the guy responsible for fixing/breaking job descriptions). The threat of demotion is not only demoralizing, it is also a clear sign that I basically have no future in the company despite my overall cooperativeness and significance.

2. Sustaining the team is impossible at this point. The bleeding of the staff has gone beyond the point where it is still possible to conserve team knowledge by transferring information from the leaving employees to new and exsiting ones. In the long run, the operation is bound to collapse and I simply did not want to stay long enough to see 5 years of my work ruined by really bad management calls.

3. My role is already overloaded. Adding a new manager on top of me will simply add more responsibility as secretary of the manager specially since it is impossible to find a manager who is already familiar to the process and whoever is added will have to be groomed by no one other than myself. (I asked Ryan if he could return. He declined ardently) Why would I keep on working for an ever increasing load when I am not getting paid or promoted for it?

4. The company gave its word and blatantly disregarded it. Over and over again with no expression of regret or remorse. I simply cannot work for a company I cannot trust. Not when there are alternatives are available.

Ironically, the day I resigned, Jun claimed that he has the updated job description ready. I kinda waited for more than half a year for that, and quite frankly, I don't really believe it will be anything satisfying. Meanwhile, policies continue to be more draconian every passing day. Just before I left, cameras were installed all over the office, internet was cut off, and the management tracking reports just got more comprehensive.

For the duration of my last 30 days, upper management ceases communication with me. Not a single effort is made in attempting to retain me. The only time management actually talked about it was when I was happy drinking the night away during the outing, and a drunk manager talked to me about it. Of the record. Talk about buzzkill. On the other hand, the client was kind enough to make certain incentives for me to stay, which I simply could not accept given the nature of the proposal. Meanwhile, every person resigning on the other team gets a counter offer, regardless of tenure. Personally I find that insulting.

Hazel, the next most knowledgeable person in a lot of projects, resigned three weeks after I did. The client thinks it's because I resigned. If ever that's the case, given what happened, it's definitely not only the reason.

A lot of the finer details were not mentioned in this account, and suffice to say this account should not be taken as bible truth. It is heavily biased on my perspective, which may be missing or misrepresenting some details. If ever, these mistakes are not done intentionally and I tried to keep the account as objective as possible.

As for my overall opinion of what happened, it's simply heartbreaking that I had to abandon a work that I thought would be my work for a very long time. Pragmatically speaking, however, the cost benefit of staying simply is no longer worth it. I do not have "Saint" before my name and I have no plans of having one added anytime soon, so I ditched the martyr 's role. Work is still business, and I will hold no grudge on anybody anymore. If ever there's something people can bank on when dealing with my personality, I have a bad memory when it comes to transgression and I'm really bad in keeping ill will alive for a long time.

I think what happened is just a case of management simply losing a real perspective of what's going on under them. I won't say that things would've changed if this and that didn't or did happen, because realistically speaking, it takes years to form the judgment of a manager, which will be used to determine how they react to things. To ask a manager to change the call that he made would be to ask him to change his entire thinking paradigm. So what happened simply happened because they did. Best case scenario, management learns from the experience, the company survives, and the team can be rebuilt into a more robust architecture.

Worst case scenario will always be what happens to things that cannot evolve: extinction

All this is behind me now, save for a few calls from the team for technical assistance. I have new work, a new project, and a lot of things to do (like updating this blog) and hopefully with a bit more knowledge on what should and should not be part of sound management practices.

Whew. Now that that's done, ON WITH THE SHOW.


Anonymous said...

Good luck on your new job! wahhh.. you were rated with an F... F*** them as well.

Jerri said...

good luck on your new job! here's to better careers for all us, cheers! =P

rommel said...

sounds like a management nightmare out of a drucker book


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