The mafia… Pressure? What pressure?

OSS delivery teams can be quite tense environments to work within can’t they? Deadlines, urgency, being in the customer’s line of sight and did I mention deadlines? [As an aside, I’m not sure which type of deadline is more stressful, the ongoing drain of fortnightly releases under Agile, or the chaos of a big-bang release that is preceded by lengthier periods of relative calm.]

When it comes to dealing with stress, I see two ends of a continuum:

  • The teflon end – get it off me, get it off me – the people who, when under stress, push stress onto everyone else and make the whole team more stressed
  • The sponge end – the people who are able to absorb the pressure around them and exude a calm that reduces stress contagion

I can completely understand those who fall at the teflon end, but I can’t admire them or aspire to work with them. I’m sure most would feel the same way. They let urgency overwhelm logic.

This reminds me of a project where the mafia were tightly entwined into a customer’s project team and they were constantly wrangling scope, approvals and payments to ensure “the organisation” profited. They were particularly “active” around delivery time.

A biggest of big-bang deliveries required me to stand in front of a large customer contingent for three days straight to demonstrate functionality and get grilled about processes, tools and data sets. At the end of the third day, we’d scheduled the demonstration of some brand new functionality.

It was a module that had been sold to the customer before even being conceptually architected let alone built. [You know the story – every requirement on an RFP must be responded to with a “Complies” even if it doesn’t]. My client (the vendor) was almost ready to back away from this many-million dollar contract due to the complexity and time estimated to build the entirely new module from scratch. I stepped in and proposed a solution that stitched together four existing tools, some glue and only a few weeks of effort… but we’d never even had it working in the lab before entering into the demo.

At first pass, the demo failed. Being at the end of the three-day demo (and the hectic weeks leading up to it), my brain was fried. The customer agreed to take a short break while we investigated what went wrong. We were struggling to find a resolution, so I was proposing to delay demonstration of the new tool until the following day.

Luckily for me, the most junior member of our team sat in the background plugging away, trialling different fixes. He tapped me on the shoulder and told me that he thought he’d resolved the problem.

We regathered the customer’s team and presented the new module. We waited for the customer’s lead to push an unknown configuration into the network and waited for him to check whether our new tool had responded correctly. It did and the customer was ecstatic.

We’d been saved by a very clever young man with an ability to absorb pressure like a sponge. I couldn’t thank him enough.

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