Always the scrappy underdog, never the bride

Sometimes the intranet life gets me down

Working on an intranet is not for people who:

  • give up easily
  • have fragile egos
  • do not readily form collaborative working relationships with everyone, regardless of any demographics or role
  • are defeatist

A comment was made at a meeting today that bothered me. A lot. It was in effect about the quality of our site being constrained by the fact that we’re using WordPress as a CMS. This comment not only insulted the technology we’re using, but implied (probably unintentionally) that the folks doing the front end dev don’t have the chops to mimic our external facing site.

We’ve also been waiting for some much needed help from another team that supports us, waiting long enough that we think we’re being ignored because other more important demands are being made on them.

Right now we feel like the other demands are always more important.

There are times, like tonight, when I am tired of feeling like we are under-resourced, disrespected, and continually playing the role of the scrappy underdog.

But I am team lead, and I can’t wallow in negativity. So I am going to talk about the things we use to our advantage, to try and fix them in my own mind.

Relationships

Relationships are huge for us. Anyone who comes to us for help or with an issue might be in a position to help us one day. Since we don’t get many resources any favors we can get can help a lot. Simply having the goodwill of other employees makes things easier and better overall.

I was in a class recently where the instructor tried to make a point with a scenario. Imagine you’re working fast food and it’s late and you’re alone in the store. A customer comes in and orders but they are about $4 shy of what they need to pay for the meal. What do you do? Well, in scrum master training, the correct answer is that you make them choose less food.

In my reality if the cost to the team is low, you give them a freebie one time. I was pretty vocal about this in class. You garner the goodwill of the customer and hopefully turn them into a repeat customer by giving them a damn break one time.

The instructor said, okay, so the next night they come in with some friends and expect the same treatment and it gets ugly.

Yeah, it can get ugly. I was done engaging with the instructor at this point because my reality didn’t fit his script. I have put boundaries on clients who tried to abuse our relationship by being overly demanding and not using our channels. Guess what? We still delivered what they needed and, in the particular case I am thinking of, we still have a good relationship with the client. Setting boundaries can be part of forming a good relationship with no one abused on either side.

That doesn’t mean you never give anything. You just have to know what the cost is to your team so you don’t give too much. Being generous within limits when the right opportunity presents itself helps improve relationships.

Collaboration

Our manager commented to us recently that we are extremely collaborative compared with some other cross-divisional teams she’s involved in.

We can’t afford to work any other way. Three developers alone are not enough to get our project done, so we make the team bigger by collaborating closely with others.

Focus like crazy

The scrum master instructor – who was really very good – was pretty forceful about the cost of not focusing. When a developer is working on many projects at once, the context switching penalty is so high that they can get virtually nothing done. A developer working on one project at a time will get a lot done quickly.

Of course, our reality doesn’t allow for all three of us to work on only one project. But we keep putting effort into ways to make ourselves more focused.

I have to admit that all of my best ideas for how to focus the team have come from my previous manager. He recently told me that his new team literally does work on one project at a time, plus being oncall.

I try to be the focus watchdog for the team. Right now I want to say ‘no’ and ‘not right now’ as much as possible to stuff outside of our main project. Some stuff simply cannot be put off or denied. See above Re: Relationships.

As a side note, I have done a lot of reading about clutter / hoarding behavior and decluttering. All of this applies to focusing the work of the team, as it turns out. It’s a huge topic but if this is something you are interested in, my current favorite book on the subject is Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Really use what you have

A couple of years ago we were moved from a web group that handled all the web sites and acted kind of like a startup in a lot of ways, to a big Java and SAS shop within the company that mostly works on mission critical applications that support the business of the company. Like the folks who make it possible to generate license keys for SAS? Right down the hall from me.

The transition was… weird. But I quickly found that the support resources within the department were tremendous and far beyond what I was used to. In many ways, we have never been so well supported which was the complete opposite of what I expected would happen when we were moved.

If it weren’t for folks in this department, we wouldn’t be doing continuous integration. Or using enterprise Github. I wouldn’t have seen first hand the possibilities of Angular. All of the forward thinking ways of doing things that we’ve adopted have been because of the department that seemed stodgy and set in its ways when we first moved over.

Resilience

What it really comes down to is resilience. That’s another huge topic but it is probably the best single word to describe how you survive being part of an intranet team for a long time.