Monday, December 15, 2008

Over the edge

I haven't been very shy in writing about my frustrations with work, but today I just wanted to cry.

I'm a project manager in a very small (12 people) company that creates online training courses for companies. The type of projects that I work on are 'off-the-shelf' or minimally customized compliance courses for pharmaceutical companies. We partner up with another company that develops the content. We take their content and pretty much cut and paste the content into our home-grown rapid-development tool (RDT).

The development life cycle is around 10 days from when the content has been approved by the client. In those 10 days:
  • the text is imported in the RDT
  • audio recording is scheduled, received, edited and added
  • new graphics are produced
  • Beta is presented to the client on our client extranet

We have a suite of different compliance courses, so clients typically choose one from our library and apply minor modifications to it -- policies specific to the company, or changing "your company" to the company name to make it seem more custom.

Really, it's not difficult to develop one of these courses. After a year of doing it, it's become more and more like monkey work to me. The skills needed to do the work are cutting/pasting text, Photoshop, audio editing, and some XML code updates. If there are functionality changes, I'll let the Flash developers take care of that, but there are even some Flash updates that I'm able to do. So because many of the tasks are within my skillset, I took over about 80% of the developments of my projects. I became a Project Doer more than a Project Manager.

For the longest time I saw it as a benefit that I was able to be my own production team. If I needed something done, I didn't have to wait my turn for one of the developers or graphic artists to become available; I just did what I needed to do. I was pretty self-sufficient and was left alone to get things done because my projects were getting done quickly and mainly under budget.

But as I became the Project Doer, I became less of a Project Manager. Because of the short life cycles and the minimum resources needed (me), creating detailed timelines didn't seem to be so important. Clients were always delaying feedback and I'd wind up spending more time adjusting schedules than doing any production work. Reporting on status to my boss was also kind of a joke, too. There was little organization in the project manager department. There are no documented processes on anything that is done. No consistent use of project management tools for the oversight of all the active projects and there was no enforcement from my manager or anyone else on the management team to use any tools. To me, it was a lot of make it up as you go along.

When I started there a year ago, I had ideas of implementing some project management methods, tools... anything that could be used to create some process that we could use consistently. They never really got off the ground because they didn't get the buy in needed from management to keep it going. Billable projects got in the way, the learning curve needed to use Microsoft Project Server seemed to be too high, or it just didn't seem to be important enough to anyone. So after a while, I just gave up trying to work on something that would benefit the department. I was tired of getting shot down. I just became focused on what I needed to do to get through the day.

In the meantime, I've been going to grad school to get my masters degree in education and become a Instructional Designer. I love the challenge of taking raw, dull content and turning it into a relevant, engaging and meaningful training course. It allows me to use my creative, logical and analytical mind all at once. But it kills me when I see the stuff that we're building. So boring. So mind-numbing. I don't even think the user interface is very good. In a nutshell, I'm not very proud of what's delivered. The content is developed by our content partners and our company owners are so attached to that damn RDT. There are some battles that can't be won. That in itself often makes me frustrated about the work I do.

But today almost put me over the edge.

I had just sent an email to the owner of the company asking if they would sponsor my registration to an upcoming eLearning conference as a career development opportunity for Instructional Design. Then in a completely unrelated matter, I get called into a meeting with the owner and my manager because a client was having audio problems with a course that I recently deployed. In addition to bandwidth problems they were having, the audio files in the course weren't compressed correctly and were too large.

"Who did the audio editing?" asked the owner, knowing full well it was me. Who else did the audio work on my projects.

"I did."

So he went on about how he and my manager had standards for editing and compressing audio so they aren't huge files that hog bandwith. (To which I'm thinking, "Oh you have standards? Are they shared? How the hell am I supposed to know that? It's not like we have a process for anything else in this place.")

But instead I respond, "Ok. That's good to know."

"It's also good for you to ask." And he leaves the room.

I may as well have been punched in the solar plexus. I felt like such an idiot.

I so much want to be able to come up with excuses. To lay the blame on management for not having processes or guidelines, or anything that would make me feel like I'm not making things up as I go along. But I do have to take some responsibility for myself. The problem is that I don't know where that separation line is.

And then I realize that I don't even want to do this job. I don't want to be a project manager -- especially this bastardized version of one. I wanted to just give up and tell them to fire me.

Then fear set in. Because I know I need to make a change, but I'm terrified to take the steps needed to do so.


  1. Anonymous1:25 AM

    Don't be too hard on yourself. It's easy for your boss to place blame or point fingers but the truth is you weren't properly supported with documentation, communication or training either. And your boss's little passive-aggressive tantrum certainly isn't productive (or professional). He definitely should have handled it better, which goes back to your lack of support.

    It sounds like the real issue is that you're not challenged in your job. Boredom is a huge problem to overcome, particularly when you're under-utilized in your primary role (PM). I think we've all been there at some point. It's easy to just start slacking and take the easy road, but it's not very rewarding. It sounds like it's time to find new challenges, either by getting back to your core responsabilities as a PM or by moving on to a new opportunity.

    I've known you for what, almost 15 years? I know you're better than that. You're one of the most proactive PMs I've ever worked with. I think you just need a new challenge. Which is a very long-winded way of saying hang in there, get your resume together and let me know if you need a reference or just someone to talk to.


  2. I agree with everything AF said. Also, you should be praised for stepping out of your role and into other areas. They should be supporting you and asking you if this is what you want to do.

    It sounds like you're ready for a change. And that you need a hug. So I'm sending you the latter. :-)

    It also sounds like this company could use some competition and that you're the right person to give them some. Perhaps you need to start your own company.

  3. This is why I love working for my dad.

    My dad: You're fired! (with a giggle)

    Me: Pass me the phone, I have to call mom and tell her about the new delivery from Land's End.

    My dad: Interested in a raise?

    Me: I thought you'd never ask.

    Hang in there, kiddo. Don't take it personally but take it literally. As in, this probably isn't the best fit and maybe now is the time to spread your wings. Either way, be proud of yourself - most people don't tackle grad school while working.

  4. Claud I feel your pain. I get really tired of it as well. And I know your manager and he does too much CYA and not enough eating crow when he should. I have never known a decent manager that didn't jump in and appologize for not taking a larger roll in being sure that you were setup for success. Owning up is a part of managing well and at the least, you did do that even if your own boss threw you under the buss (but I agree that you shouldn't be hard on yourself.)

    You are really organized and this place totally under-utilizes your skills. Some days I wonder if they are more interested in maintaining what they have at the expense of good employees rather than really bring valueable leadership (even if that means getting out of the way and letting you help them fix some stuff.) As a "production" person I have given up on trying to mentally ballance getting work done on time and not delivering enough creativity (especially when that "creativity" really means reading someone elses mind and taking a path I wouldn't have personally selected.) That is my battle right now and at the end of the day I think I am feeling forced to decide between (1) embracing the complacency of the long-timers who don't care about their work and whos work shouts the montra "get'er done" or (2) I need to reject the death knoll of passion and rather embrace it and go find a place where it can flurish.

    The fact is that this place has a culture and I am suprised that it has taken a year+ to figure out that you (or I) are not compatable with this particular culture. Someone will be, just not us (or the previous hand full of staff who have either left or been fired.) Life is too short.

    I say be brave. You can tool up the resume and send it out. And they can call you and you can turn them down... until you find what you are looking for (which will likely also have its share of crap, but hopefully the gig will be worth enduring the crap, I suppose.)

  5. O.M.G. Clau, I'm so sorry it's rough. I'm totally on board with what AF said. Your ability to stretch into multiple roles is not being valued there. You know what kind of companies value that stuff? Smaller, Agile/Lean companies. Like ones in SF. Where I just so happen to work...*cough*

    I do think it would be awesome if you started your own company. And you know, I'm still up for working for you as an overpaid employee.

    HUG. Hang in there. Happy holidays.