T-SQL Tuesday #105: Showstopper Safari

It’s Joburg SQL User Group meeting tonight, and that means  it’s also T-SQL Tuesday! Another chance to contribute to the #sqlcommunity, and this month a chance to reflect on difficult moments in a SQL career. Thanks, as always, to Adam Machanic (t|b) for starting T-SQL Tuesday, and to Steve Jones (t|b), for his contribution (and website).

I committed to participating in 10 of 12 T-SQL Tuesdays this year, and unfortunately I’ve missed the last 2 months due to circumstances outside of my control. Riley, I’ll do my best to not miss another month, and only just miss my target.

Wayne Sheffield (t|b|l) is the host today, and he has asked us to recount a situation in which we “hit a brick wall” in our career, and how we handled it.

I know that many people will discuss technical, or technological challenges, but I’d like to chat about people problems. I’ve always managed to hurdle technology related walls, but when people start to create the obstacle, I’ve found it harder to navigate.

I’ve been in this position a couple of times , for different reasons, so I’d like to mention a couple, and ask if anyone can suggest solutions.

Firstly, two types of animals I’ve encountered in the work place.

Psittacines

In my personal life, I LOVE parrots.

My Senegal, Pheobe, was my companion bird for 7 years before she flew away in a thunder storm, and I miss her terribly. One day, when the time is right, I hope to get myself another companion bird.

However, in a work scenario, I get terribly frustrated with “parrots”.

Many times, I have asked a business user why certain things are done, only to be answered with, “I don’t know, I was just taught to do it this way”. So I ask for documentation, and unsurprisingly, none exists.

Brandon Griggs

Dealing with a “parrot” is not easy. They often do not have enough authority to sign-off on changes to a process, and so the likely outcome in this situation is to propagate the current process, without explanation or reason, but simply because that’s the way it’s always been done. If you’re lucky, you can work up the chain of command, until you find someone with enough authority to sign off on a change, or someone with enough vested interest in your success to investigate why the process is as it is.

On the other hand, you could find that the person in authority is a…

Fearful Feline

Mikhail Vasilyev

Another type of barrier to progress, is the user who is too scared to make the decisions for which they are responsible. In a recent project, I needed support from a senior resource to implement the first part of a solution, critical for the rest of the project. Unfortunately, this person delayed and hesitated at every port, abdicating responsibility, seeking validation from non-responsible parties and refusing to sign-off on data differences, even when explainable and documented. The project ultimately failed, in a large part, due to this user.

It is almost impossible to deal with the “scaredy-cat”, as no amount of work on your behalf will convince them. It will always require one more month of testing, one more person to validate your findings, one more meeting or review session. Sooner or later it becomes clear that they don’t trust you, and the best thing you can do is walk away.

Far from not taking enough responsibility for a project, you may run into…

Mama Bear

Adam Willoughby-Knox

I worked on a project, where the project manager really believed in micro-management. They needed to have ultimate sign-off on every artefact, every decision, and every step of the process. I spent more time than I wish to think about in meetings with every person remotely affected by my work, and progress was so slow, I sometimes thought we were going backwards. Thankfully, we would eventually get to a decision, usually exactly the same decision that was presented before any external input, but the loss of productivity, and motivation among the developers was plain to see.

Dealing with mama bear can be tricky, but highlighting the behaviour in a non-confrontational way can lead to better understanding between you and them. It took longer than it probably should have, but I eventually managed to get mama bear to let go a little bit, and the project sped up considerably once they did.

Safari Survival Tips

Dealing with people is often harder than dealing with technology. You can’t Google your way out of a mama bear problem and no amount of “turning it off and on again” will get a scaredy cat to make a decision.

Spending time understanding the rationale behind certain behaviours can help you survive, but if a dangerous animal is blocking your path, sometimes the best thing you can do is to just run away.

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