15 Minutes of Fame

So, you’re sitting at your desk, diligently working on some kind of document that is apt to be critical to the business of your client – or at least that’s what you’re hoping. Suddenly, your boss materializes appears (he’s stealthy, but not supernatural). It’s 6 PM, so you know he’s not coming to ask you for lunch. Earlier in the day, you also overhead a conversation where he promised the client a nice dinner at Nobu, so you know he’s not coming to ask you to dinner. This can only mean one thing: visions of Bill Lumbergh’s monotonous “Yeah, so why don’t you go ahead and come in on the weekend” dance through your mind. Your heart sinks. You’re about to be decked.

Putting together PowerPoint slide shows is a crucial skill that all consultants master. However, no matter how many presentations you’ve created, there is no possible way that you could capture the essence of //this particular// message without reaching out to a senior manager who’s on holiday in Malaysia and five managers located far afield. And, of course, you need to do all of that before tomorrow morning. Of course.

Faced with the prospect of spending all night working on a presentation that you know is going to go through six (or fifteen) revisions before it’s delivered to the client, you contemplate your options:

  • Reach out to all the aforementioned people, taking comfort in the fact that (at most) 5% of them will reply. What little feedback you do receive is unlikely to have a significant effect, so you feel comfortable forging ahead with abandon.
  • Conduct a situational context assessment (i.e., see who is still at the office) and determine if you’re able to beguile them into contributing to your work. Promises of Hendrick’s gin and Q tonic are usually helpful in this endeavor.
  • Tell your boss that he shouldn’t have too much to drink because after he’s finished at Nobu, he’ll be doing the deck himself. You’ve had enough of this rubbish and you’re finished. For maximum impact, slam your computer down, shattering it to pieces, light a cigarette and stroll out with a carefree smile.

For those of you seriously contemplating option three, let me recount a tale from last weekend that will hopefully dissuade you.

Like many organizations, my current client relies on consultants to provide industry expertise, new ideas and workforce flexibility. For this client, I’m leading a Source Control Methodology engagement to help enhance their software build and version control procedures. As organizations evolve system development methodologies and adopt a more service oriented architecture, strong governance related to code promotion and service versioning will become crucial. The topic is interesting and the client is friendly, so I’m pretty excited about this engagement. The work that I’m leading will identify current practices, cast some aspirational goals and develop a plan to get there. In consulting parlance, the project consists of an as-is assessment, a to-be vision, a gap assessment and a road map. It’s not a benchmarking initiative regarding development performance.

Because I’m a Canadian working in the US, I need a work visa. Although I qualify for other varieties, I’ve always opted for the TN visa because it’s inexpensive and simple to obtain. The primary irritant is that the visa only lasts for a year at a time. With the expiration date looming, I decided that last weekend would be a good opportunity to take care of the annual renewal. I planned to fly from Chicago to Toronto to renew the visa and then to Cleveland to attend a friend’s wedding. My flight was supposed to leave Chicago at 6 PM on Friday evening. At about 11 AM that same day, I received notice that my flight was canceled. After some travel-foo by the angels at our corporate travel agency, I was placed on an Air Canada flight to from Chicago to Toronto at 3 PM on Friday. Due to frequent flying, I was also able to upgrade to business class. Nice.

As the jet boarded, I reclined my chair, closed my eyes and relaxed amid the chaos of the general boarding. After a few moments, the man next to me started chatting on the phone and I overheard him mention the name of my client. I opened my eyes to a huge surprise. On his lap was sitting one of the ingenious deliverables I’d authored as part of my current engagement. Wow!

So, I turned to him and said, “Hey, that’s mine.”

Since he’d only recently retrieved the document from his briefcase, he replied, “No, it’s not.”

I countered, “I’m sorry. I mean, it’s mine in the sense that it’s my work. Flip to the revisions table on the second page. I am Harley Young.”

He was stunned. After a moment of contemplation, he replied, “Well, this is truly remarkable. I need to speak with you about this document. I’ve been trying to track you down for a week, but I didn’t know how to get in touch with you. You don’t seem to be in the Lotus Notes system.”

I replied, “Our statement of work was just signed, so I should be in Notes next week, but let’s talk now.”

And we did. It was nice conversation and a lovely experience to meet someone who’s using my work to help inform the work he’s doing. From this whole affair I learned a couple of things:

  • No matter how powerful the temptation, unless you’re planning to retire, do not ever burn a bridge.
  • I should annotate documents in a similar fashion to the way I annotate code – with my name and email address – to simplify follow-up conversations about work that I’ve done.
  • Life is full of exceptional coincidences.