Various Lies

Monday, March 22, 2010

I just had the perfect meeting!

I'm Program Manager. That's like being a Project Manager really. I guess they gave me the "Program" part because I got on the executive pay scale finally and they needed to invent something for me. I basically look after a couple of academic units and a research unit. It's a lot of hats and it is getting complicated...

Because the main research Unit I administer is fairly modest, and they cover the majority of my base salary, I have been surviving on Excel spreadsheets and hand written notes. But we're finally reaching the point at which I need some decent P-M software to help me keep abreast of all the pies I have my fingers stuffed into....and as mixed metaphors go I think that may be the dumbest thing I have written for a while.

Image search for 'Bad Metaphor' lead me to this site.
I'd say my metaphor was as poor as this young man's thinking that a half grill was a good idea

Anyway, I found some really nice P-M software I want (can't find the link now...), but it's going to cost a couple of grand per year to use it, and I can't afford that. There are some other sources, like BaseCampHQ and Zoho Project but there but nothing that did exactly what I wanted, and if I have to pay I want it to exactly what I want, not mostly or nearly what I want.

Then I found out that one of my colleagues has built some software to help her with task/project management so we spoke and I asked if I could use it. She agreed and gave us a demo at a Team Meeting a few weeks back. It does pretty much what I want and because it's free and it's her toy she said she'd let me in the back-end and I could customize our section. It's PHP & HTML on top of a Drupal template, and I can do some tweaks with that (not much, yet, but some).

I've downloaded Drupal, and to help me learn how to run things from the back-end I grabbed MAMP too. MAMP is a bundled package giving you the MySQL and Apache servers you need to build websites. Don't actually run a website one off your hard drive though or you're in trouble. As all this was going on I then found out that Drupal has a low approval rating in some pipes of the interchoobes and the naysayers scream for Joomla or other pre-packaged bundles.

At this point I threw up my hands and haven't been back since... up my hands. What a nice visual image. Epic metaphor FAIL is FAIL indeed. I am NOT searching for an image based on that search term while attached to work's interchoob connection!

Thus, I was stuck with a customizable P-M system I couldn't customize, which I had loaded all my main research Unit's projects into and there it sat. My boss was yelling at me to get it sorted, so I was yelling at my colleague to get me sorted and it was all very Keystone Cops.

Until this morning when my Wonderful Assistant and I sat down at an Executive Meeting she called...She is a wonder and I love her for helping my sorry ass out like this.

See, I'm used to running my own shit and taking care of my own shit and other gung-ho aphorisms that can't and don't apply when you're looking after a team of around a dozen people and 20+ ongoing projects. It works fine when you're a lab rat with limited horizons, but not in the wider world. I think this is the hurdle most of us face when we leave the world of postdoc science and venture out. We 'train' for the tenure-track, but we have no idea what it's like, TT or not, to handle the massive demands on your time and attention.

So, Wonderful Assistant told me she is getting pissed off sitting round playing sudoku and watching me run round in circles going bright red and screaming and not asking for help. She essentially told me if I didn't use her to the fullest of her capabilities she was going to quit. We talked for a long time about what my Unit needs to do and I explained the nature of my job to her: I spend 75% of my time putting out fires and building bridges; and she can't help much with that except with scheduling my insane fucking calendar. I spend 24% of my time doing "science-type stuff", and she can't help much with that because she doesn't have the requisite background and training. I spend 1% of my time, and 95% of my energy doing all the other shit that needs to be done, like screaming at my colleague because my boss is screaming at me to get the fucking P-M software working.

"Let me help," She said. "I can talk to your colleague for you and sort it out."

"But if I can't talk to her and get it done, how can you help?"

"At least me try!" She pleaded.

And at 2PM this afternoon there was a knock on my office door. Wonder Assistant and Colleague stood there and asked if I had time to chat...

...and fifteen minutes later I am sitting here typing this blog post; my list of corrections, additions and tweaks has been noted and already begun. Colleague was laughing, smiling, and 'no problem'ing the entire time, Wonder Assistant was taking notes on what I needed and generally looked rather pleased with herself, as well she should. And in 24hrs time I will have the customized P-M software I need, by Wednesday Wonder Assistant will have re-modified my previous entries & added the mountain of Academic tasks we look after, and on Friday I will sing her praises from the highest peak in this Ivory tower during Group meeting!


Genomic Repairman said...

Sing loud and cheer the wonders of the ambitious spear carrier!

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

Wow. Just, wow. Nice work! If she's still bored, please send her in my direction :)

tideliar said...

Yeah, I totally <3 the help.

@GR: if she keeps this up I will go to bat for the FT postion

@Cath: HANDS OFF! :p