Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Wasteland

Spent the day at the home office, things have changed.

When I left (2 and a half years ago) things were still fairly busy. If you wanted to get a good parking spot, you'd better get in before 0730. Nowadays, a good parking spot can be had at just about any time of the day.

People tell me that there tend to be lulls in the defense contracting business. When I first started here (after retiring from the Air Force) things were booming. The old timers would tell me about the big drop-off that occurred "back in the '90s". They also predicted that things would slow down eventually. They did and here I am.

Compared to a couple of years ago, the building is kind of a ghost land. You can wander about the corridors and not see anyone. While there are not tumbleweeds blowing across the parking lot, I can visualize them being there. The lady who sits across the cube wall from me actually apologized for subjecting me to a long telecon regarding an expense account. After sitting in the dead quiet for a few hours, I told her that it was no problem, it was nice hearing actual business being conducted. It was nice to not feel like the Burgess Meredith character in that old Twilight Zone episode.

These things are cyclic I suppose. It always seems to be feast or famine. But in some ways we're our own worst enemy. When times are good and the flow of cash out of Washington seems never ending, we waste lots of money on fripperies. Hats and t-shirts advertising the name of the latest product are given out to the employees at "town hall" meetings to brief us on how well things are going. Not to mention the free snacks and soft drinks.

I know those things don't cost all that much, but hey, a little here and a little there and soon you're spending fairly large chunks of change.

And meetings, don't get me started on meetings. I've been on projects where we had a weekly meeting which had twenty people in a conference room for up to two hours with nearly everybody letting everyone else know what they did last week, what they were doing this week and what they planned to do next week. Most of these meetings were an absolute waste of time.

There was one group I remember back in the old days where all of them sat in their "War Room", all day long, every day, five days a week. Occasionally they would actually interact with each other. Most of the time they all sat there, staring at their lap top screens and tip-tapping on their keyboards. I think those folks were management. There were 8 to 10 of them on any given day. The project probably had 3 actual engineers doing the actual work.

That's something else I've noticed, the whole "War Room" concept. Seems that if a project had enough managerial and bean-counter types assigned, then they would get their very own "War Room". Basically that meant that they would get their own conference room, which no one else was allowed to use, and a cool sign that indicated that the conference room formerly known as "Conference Room 123" was now the "Agile Death Star Best Practices Lean Paradigm Team War Room". Or some such nonsense.

When you get a chance, go check out CDR Salamander's blog some time (listed in the "Stuff I Like to Read" area off to your right) and read the lead-in to his blog. The part that starts "PROACTIVELY “FROM THE SEA”;" etc. etc. The good Commander is being tongue in cheek, but there are corporate baboons who actually talk like this.

So I spent the day at the home office. Many deserted offices, many empty hallways. There are portions of the building where new construction occurred, and now sits unused. I've also been down hallways where the posters on the walls have not changed since I left. Kind of eerie when you consider that most of those posters were kind of out of date when I left. Feels like a town where everyone just up and left one day. Not to the point where the remnants of someone's lunch was still on the table, but close.

6 comments:

  1. And meetings, don't get me started on meetings.

    The bane of the corporate world. My penultimate boss in my civilian career hated them as much as I did, and he was our Ops VP. He NEVER had a regularly scheduled meeting, if something required a meeting he'd call one, we'd have it, action items would be given and we were done. Twenty minutes, tops. But he quit and the NEW Ops VP had a regular weekly Ops "staff meeting" that consisted of him and four directors, me and three other people. That lasted three hours, always.

    It got to the point I quit going, being able to manufacture crises that demanded my attention. My peers told me I'd never get away with it, but I did. But then I quit, too... six months later. I was too old to work for asshats by that time.

    The BEST thing about bein' fully retired? No meetings... :-)

    On another note: I'm glad I went into the IT world and had NOTHING to do with gub'mint, and the military in particular. I did a short gig (about a month, TDY) at our Mil-Systems division in the first company I worked for and they wanted me to come over to them full-time. I laughed.

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    1. Buck - Obviously you've "been there, done that, got the t-shirt". When my son got out of the Navy he swore he would never work for a contractor or work anywhere where he had to deal with the bozos in DC. He has kept his vow. Me? Well I just need to be around all things military. Even when it means I have to work for a defense contractor. My favorite trick to slide out of meetings? I get up and walk out, quietly of course. One time the jughead running the meeting actually stopped the meeting and called me out as I was departing. "Just where do you think you're going?" he said. "I gotta take a piss. Why? Ever since Okinawa I just can't stop pissing.", was my answer. Well, old jughead got really red-faced and actually apologized. He knew I was retired Air Force. Oh well, if he wanted to believe that my imminent need to relieve myself was a service connected thing, who was I to say otherwise. I also tend to be very blunt in meetings, so there are many meetings I no longer get invited to. Breaks my heart but life goes on. You don't have to be dangerous and ornery, just let everybody think you are!

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  2. CEO of a Fortune 100 company I worked at several years ago would actually prowl the meeting room spaces, poking his head into random meetings and asking how long you been in here?. Since he was the CEO people would answer with truthfulness - one hour, 2 hours, etc... His response would always go something like this: If you've been here for more than 45 minutes, you don't know what you are doing. It was interesting to be in one of those meetings when he popped his head thru the door.

    Today, at yet another Fortune 100 company, I have to wonder how any actual work gets done. My boss - a V.P. - is in meetings 8-9 hours per day, nearly every day of the week. It is insane.

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    1. I know of a number of so-called managers at my place of employment who also spend nearly all day, every day, in meetings. And I have observed that if anything comes out of those meetings, it is nothing which increases productivity. Most of the time it actually hinders productivity. Reminds of when I was in the Strategic Air Command (SAC). It was not unusual to find the headquarters building overflowing with officers on weekends, all attending meetings and impressing each other with their PowerPoint skills. Change of command occurred, new four-star general took over. The second weekend he was in command he swept through the building and pretty much told everyone to "go home, if I catch you here again not doing anything of any substance, you'll regret it!" Needless to say the PowerPoint minions scurried out and went home. About a month later, things were back to normal. When again the four-star swept into the building like a Kansas tornado, there were a number of very unhappy captains and majors. Most of whom lost their cushy headquarters billets and found themselves on the way to such SAC garden spots as Minot and Grand Forks. Both in the Dakotas, both places you want to be nowhere near in the winter. The message was understood after that. This general was dead serious about wasting the taxpayers money.

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    2. ...such SAC garden spots as Minot and Grand Forks.

      OK, I HAVE to weigh in on that. Minot was my support base when I was stationed at Fortuna AFS in NoDak. Minot was about 150 miles southeast of us and we'd go there to PARTY occasionally, given it was the ONLY "big city" within a reasonable drive, except for Regina, Sask, where we'd also go to party. Minot ain't THAT bad when you consider some other places. Still and even, I wouldn't have wanted to stand guard on those alert BUFFs in the winter. Aiiieee.

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    3. Okay, I wasn't really knocking Minot (well, yeah, I was) and I've been in some of those "other places". Had a buddy who was stationed in Minot, he loved it, he said the hunting and fishing up there was excellent. But it is bloody cold up there. Not a place I ever had on my dream sheet.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)