Thursday, March 11, 2004

Putting carts before horses

I have mentioned in the past about how absurd my work is getting. It has finally come to the ultimate absurdity.

I may have talked about some of this before so bear with me if I'm repeating anything.

Oklahoma State University is changing networking and email systems. This is not news to regular readers. I knew from about the beginning of the year that I would, in some way, be responsible for coordinating or supervising the desk-side visits for the migration. It was at that time that I was appointed supervisor over the three very capable people that make up on-site support. Even before then, I had been told that the Client Services area of the Information Technology Division would be hiring some temporary employees to assist departments with the migration process.

Contingent upon knowing how many people we would be hiring was knowing how much time we needed to allot for each visit to each computer. As the clock ticked down, I kept saying to myself, "I wish they would figure out what we're going to do at the desktops so we can figure out how long it's going to take."

About three weeks ago I learned that I was "they". It was at that point that I learned that it was my responsibility to put together the documentation that the migration technicians (for lack of a better term) would be using as a roadmap and checklist. Fair enough but someone had better show me how the new networking system worked. I could handle the mail system - I was already part of a test group using the new email client and it isn't much more than install the software and connect to the mailbox. There are some other special considerations with email but those situations are only going to apply to about 10-20% of the people we work with.

At any rate, I proceeded to document some of the email procedures while waiting to get some time in the test lab with one of the server admins. That time finally came about a week and a half later and I left more confused than when I went in. But I had notes and figured I'd get so far then get someone on the phone and start asking questions.

The questions came sooner than I thought.

I lined out the steps to add a workstation (not a person) to the new network, then suddenly realized I had a procedural question on my hands... Who was going to be adding the workstations to the network? Was that being done on the front end or the back end?

It was shortly after I got an answer to that question that I stumbled head-first over the reason I hadn't gotten very far in this endeavor and smacked my face on the pavement.

My meeting about adding workstations was Tuesday morning (as in two days ago). Later that morning, Charles called me into his office to discuss the meeting he and several others had attended the previous day. They had spent three and a half hours debating and lining out the on-site migration procedure. That's right, the same procedure I was supposed to be documenting.

That's when the headache hit. I realized I was attempting to document a procedure that hadn't been defined yet. A procedure, in my mind, that should have been finalized even before I was asked to document it three weeks ago.

Charles had put together a simple flowchart based on his notes from the meeting. Charles likes flowcharts and, frankly, so do I. I took a copy of his flowchart and studied it. I quickly realized that if this procedure ever had a hope of being documented properly, I was going to have to flesh it out, look at it as a whole, then start putting together written instructions on how to complete each step.

From my notes, Charles' flowchart and a vague understanding of what we are trying to accomplish, I came up with four - count them, FOUR! - seperate procedures that I lined out in flowcharts. It's no wonder I've been feeling like a blind man stumbling around in a crowded room.

By the time I completed them Wednesday afternoon, Charles had left the office for the day - probably to class. He wasn't in most of the day today and, when he was in, he wasn't available. Given the way he works, though, I'm sure he's looked them over by now. I posted the flowcharts to a web site and emailed him that I wanted him to look them over. I'll talk with him about them tomorrow and if he's not in his office, he's getting a call on his cell phone.

It is now less than four days before the production environment goes online and we migrate the first group within IT. I don't even have so much as a portion of a rough draft of a part of a segment of one of the procedures. Fortunately, no one is nagging me for it because they realize they tasked me with what was, at the time, an impossible duty.

Once those procedures are approved, though, watch me fly!