12/24/2014

Christmas Delivery

It was Christmas Eve and the workshop was, of course, utter chaos. It was the same every year.

Sometime in February, a new Program Manager would propose a brand new process that would surely fix it last year's problems. “This time,” they’d say, “We’ll do it earlier. And we’ll do it better!”

It would always start with schedule adjustments:
  • The Naughty & Nice List must be frozen by June
  • Present orders due August first
  • Present manufacturing August-September
  • Present delivery to Shipping in October
  • Outstanding issues and errors processed in October
  • Final order adjustments in November
This, they said, would leave all of December to pack the sled, double-check everything, and take a big breath before Delivery.

The schedule would start slipping early on. First, the Naughty & Nice List wouldn’t be ready on time. The PMs would ask for it, but Evaluation would push back, saying, “The year hasn’t even happened yet! We don’t know whether they’re naughty or nice!” They’d offer some token names for the List (with some kids you always know how its going to end up), but it didn’t even account for 5% of the total List. The PMs would argue for incremental improvement and names would trickle in over the year, but the bulk of the evaluations really didn’t happen until late Fall.

Presents couldn’t be ordered in July, of course, because it wasn’t clear who would get what until the List was complete. Manufacturing stalled waiting on Ordering. And the entire Shipping department just went on a six month offsite to Aruba, knowing that there wouldn’t be anything for them to deal with until the last minute.

Finally it all always comes together in December, with everything happening in parallel, gumming up the works as elves are hand-carrying names, orders, and presents in a flurry of activity more like Black Friday at Walmart than Santa’s Happy Workshop.

This year, some PM (a new one, of course, as the previous year’s PM quit in a huff and took on a job in Returns (“At least Returns knows something about adhering to process!, ” she quipped in her obligatory departmental goodbye email)) had the bright idea of trying out some Agile methodology. They apparently ran across a huge stack of some book in Returns on the subject and thought that it would solve all of our problems.

The year started out with this discouraging email:

Hey Team!

As your new scrum master, I’m here to welcome you to 2014, or what I’m calling The Year of Process! This year, we won’t suffer any of the previous problems because we will iterate on deliverables in short sprints, delivering incremental product improvements based on specific customer requirements. Daily stand-up meetings will cover status as well as project overlap and bottlenecks, which will be adjusted through cross-team collaboration.

Through careful adherence to process discipline, we will all have a productive year and December will be a joyous holiday time instead of a slog.

So welcome to the Year of Process: It’s my gift to you!

Sincerely,
Scrum Master Elf

Nobody understood or cared about this. Another year, another PM. Another PM, another attempt at fixing an unfixable problem.

We all showed up for the first stand-up meeting; we’d heard there would be donuts. Everyone but the PM was seated comfortably, despite his best efforts to get us to rise. We spent a few painful minutes in a round-table status discussion, then ambled off to get some more coffee.

The next day there was another stand-up meeting, but I don’t think anyone other than the PM showed up.

We’d get a flurry of emails on how things were going on an almost continual basis. I think the PM was just having a conversation with himself; I know that we weren’t listening. Emails with titles like, “February Sprint Deliverables!” and “March Deadline Approaching!” and “[URGENT!] April Requirements Due!” all got auto-filtered into our junk folders.

Around July, the emails stopped cold. The official story was that the PM had taken a vacation, from which he apparently never returned. The word on the street was that he had flipped out in the break room and started flinging sugar packets everywhere, shouting, “And you get process! And you get process! And you get process!” Security escorted him out and he’s supposedly recovering in his mother’s basement.

The rest of the year went the same as they always do, with everyone just hanging out playing poker until December and then kicking into overdrive to get it all done on time.

So here we were again: December 24th. The List had barely come in in time to have any of the presents ordered. But we pushed through a Code Red and got all the right forms submitted. The assembly line kicked into high gear, temporary elves were brought on, overtime was signed off on, and all of the presents were made to spec (though without, perhaps, the care and attention that they all deserved. But how is a five year old supposed to notice too much glue in a joint? Or whether their bear is cross-eyed? Or whether their toy trains wheels are trued?). We all formed a packing line to get the presents from Manufacturing into the sleigh, and it was all finally done with at least a minute to spare. Maybe even a minute and a half.

“Okay, Santa,” I said to my boss as he settled into his seat, putting his fresh quint-espresso into the cup holder (a recent addition to the sleigh, something we managed in the summer downtime). “Everything is here: all present and accounted for. It’s a wrap!”

He looked at me sternly. “You really need some new jokes,” he said.

“And I thought I had a gift!,” I said with a smile.

“Ugh. All right, let’s hook up the reindeer and get these delivered.”

“Yes sir!”

I turned to make it happen when he called me back.

“Oh, and one more thing.”

“Yes, Santa?”

“I have an idea for a present for me for next year.”

“Really? We’ve… we’ve… we’ve never had such a request, sir. I’m not sure we’re equipped. But we’ll see what we can do. Do you need a new sleigh? Dry-cleaning for your outfit? A new set of reindeer? A beard trimmer? World peace? What can we get you, sir?”

“I want a year without process.”

“Yes, sir!”
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