Tuesday, June 13, 2006

About to go Postal in the Workplace

I'm having a mildly stressful time at work right now trying to finish some Business Requirements documentation (note how euphemistic I can be when talking about work). We have been at this "almost finished" stage now for weeks. I think the whole project team has been thinking for 4 or 5 weeks that "we'll be finished in a day or two". I seem to recall some mathematical equation that showed a number approaching zero but never actually reaching it. I must have slept through that lesson because I don't remember what it's called. That's what this project is starting to feel like (the approaching zero part, not the sleeping part - although that would be nice.)

The main reason this is dragging on is that more managers are getting their fingers in the pie as "stakeholders" and wanting to get their 2 cents in before the document is signed off. Obviously, these people should have been brought into the process earlier (or not at all) and I am wondering why they are important enough to hold up sign-off but not important enough to have been brought in earlier in the requirements gathering process. In a less positive workplace this would be absolutely intolerable.

Endless iterations coupled with a culture of blame make for a deeply toxic workplace - I've been in enough of them to recognise I'm fairly lucky with the positive approach being taken in my current workplace. No amount of positivity can hide the fact that working in a high pressure "must finish" environment is stressful and aggravating. The project hasn't reached death march status yet but I'll be having pointed words with the project manager if everything isn't signed off this week. We have been treating every delay as a "learning process" to be applied to future projects which alleviates anger and frustration for a while.

It won't be much longer until "learning" is limited to learning which people should never been consulted because they lock you into an endless review process/death spiral. I feel like I'm within a day or two of losing my shit if this doesn't end but, weirdly enough, I've been feeling like that for weeks and yet I haven't lost it. One thing this is making me consider is the fine line between taking a principled stand and throwing a hissy fit.

In my worst-ever workplace, my former team member (FTM) coped with stress by throwing the occasional hissy fit. He would simply explode, go on quite loudly about how he wasn't going to take it any more and storm off. Then he'd wander back some time later and the people who had pissed him off would apologise. I can never bring myself to do this in a workplace as it strikes me as incredibly unprofessional. I know this may be a surprise to some readers of this blog (where I never seem to stop "going off") but for those who haven't worked it out yet - I maintain a significant degree of separation between my blog self and real self.

I have noticed, bizarrely enough, that dysfunctional workplaces tend to reward, or at least recognise, extreme behaviour. Staying quiet and doing your job doesn't work. Being loud and abrasive gets you noticed and in crap workplaces it gets you promoted. I think there must be some sort of mathematical equation to express this, something that says the level of reward increases the more closely aligned your behaviour is with the health of the workplace.

In other words, a positive workplace rewards positive behaviour and a negative workplace rewards negative behaviour. Surely there's a mathematician out there who could earn their PhD by studying this field?

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