Monday, January 29, 2007

Mommy, Daddy, stop fighting!

Jesus, Mary, and Phillip Johnson, deliver me from Pomme de Terre.

Today, the PdT team had a CAD meeting to discuss some format issues as well as how the sheets were set up for printing this Friday. Gathered around a conference table and staring at the image projected from our CAD manager's laptop, we reviewed this information with the glazed looks of the Pussycat Dolls learning quantum physics. Here begins the pandemonium. The drawing software my company (and many architecture firms) use, typically called CAD (computer-aided drafting) or CADD (computer-aided design and drafting), has undergone some changes recently to make it even easier to make 3D models. Pretty much everyone working on PdT took a series of classes with our CAD manager, Sarge, and they got somewhat comfortable with using the new system of setting up files and sheets. Sheets are the computer files that one actually prints and gives to the contractor and says, "Go build it."

(One aside is necessary here: Sarge is the only person at my office who knows about Why Architects Drink. A former helicopter mechanic and sergeant in the Army, he has attempted to instill some type of order in our office in terms of CAD and project standards. He has found that it's less painful just to slam his head in a car door.)

Sarge trained everyone on the PdT team except for two people who were hired way after training started. One of the new people does mostly management stuff, so he doesn't need to know much about CAD. However, Wanda, the other new addition to Team PdT, spends a great deal of time working in the drawings. Somehow, despite lacking the same amount of training in the software's advances, Wanda has ended up being the keeper of the file and sheet setups. While working on sheets a few weeks ago, she had a few problems with a few of her sheets and they wouldn't look right and print right. Sarge showed her a quick fix for those sheet files, which she not only did for those files but also for every single sheet file (of about 40 to 50 sheets). She revealed to the whole team today that the system she's set up is far off from how the team was taught by Sarge to set up sheets. Now, I realize many of you out there might say that this sounds like much ado about nothing and to get over it, but it's a big fucking deal to the people working on it. It's the difference between taking a couple of hours to print your drawings and taking eight hours. It's the difference between someone new being able to jump right into the project and start working and that same person spending half the day trying to figure out where and how the hell the files are set up. It's a Big. Fucking. Deal.

Upon seeing what Wanda had done to the files, Liz piped up. "Wait, are we doing this just for the deadline Friday or for the rest of the project?"
"For the rest of the project," replied Wanda.
"I think we need to take a step back, then," Liz said. "We spent a great deal of time learning this new system, and it seems like it would be problematic to simply chuck it all."
"Well, I had to do it this way to fix the sheets for the deadline," said Wanda.
"Right, and I understand that, but I really liked having the sheets divided up into subcategories so we could print faster."
Susanna chimed in. "This way of setting up sheets is easier at the outset, but it also makes it so that you have to alter the documents in the sheets instead of in a view file, like normal."
"Well, okay, but I had to get these sheets done and I had to prioritize," was Wanda's reply.

WAD Readers, this went on for fifteen minutes. While everyone's words stayed pretty civil, there was something subtle in the tones of voices--especially Wanda's--that sounded like tension was sneaking in. It finally felt to me like Liz and Wanda were almost arguing for control of the project's setup. Recall that I said that working with a team of women is mostly positive; here's where it's not-so-great. In general, men will debate for a bit, come to a solution, then move on. Women, however, more often than not will emote and continue to emote and strain to be heard, not realizing that they have indeed been heard and now it's time to shut the fuck up and move on. I'll admit that I've been guilty of it myself, but GOD! was it frustrating to listen to today, especially while sitting in a meeting. I swear to God, most meetings are a waste of my time.

Sarge piped in with a possible solution--when the deadline had passed, he would sift through the files and see if he could solve the problems so that we could set the files up correctly--but Lord, no, it didn't seem to satisfy. The repetition of everyone's points of view continued. I finally broke in to repeat Sarge's solution so that we could close the discussion and finally move on, and I almost succeeded. The discussion went on for another five minutes, then finally Wanda and Liz let it go so we could move on.

Dear WAD Readers, dear sweet WAD Readers, I fear I've put you all to sleep with this CAD-tastrophe, but it was truly a big deal today. What it was for me was 1) a waste of my time, 2) a revelation that the wrong person is managing the files, 3) an escalation of hostility between two people whom I both respect, 4) an illustration of how technology can simultaneously help and hinder, and 5) a glimpse into the Fifth Concentric Ring of Dante's Easy-Bake Oven that is Sarge's life.

I cornered him later. "Dude, is this what every meeting with Pomme de Terre is like?"
He shrugged. "Yep. Every single time. They were actually pretty good today; usually they break into four or five shrill voices trying to get their point across all at once."
I rubbed my temple. "Dear God."
"Yep." Sarge wrapped up his laptop cables and tucked them back into their case. "I'm gonna go slam my head in a car door. I'll be back after lunch."


Miss Kitty said...

You should get one Xanax for every hour of meetings you have to endure. Sort of like combat pay.

BaxterWatch said...

Ah. That is why I love working with men. Less undercurrents of drama. And control freaks are pretty much acknowledged, and either allowed to control or are verbally beat into submission. Nothing about "Well, I know you FEEL that way, but..."

Then again, its a little disconcerting to watch one chew out another and then act like buddies 30 minutes later. We wimmen aren't wired to let. it. go.

but that's the point.

Sarge said...

If only combat pay would serve as some form of compensation for this...


Mile High Pixie said...

BaxterWatch: Yeah, there's pros and cons to working with either gender. I have to say though that I find it easier to close a topic and move on with men than with women. Sometimes, our love of processing every single thing bogs things down. Fortunately, I have my wit to extricate me from any pissing contests with men.

Miss Kitty and Sarge: Combat pay indeed! And yes, staffing and personality clashes are "typical" nightmares in architecture. Ought to be written into the contract....

faded said...

Is the project leaders' name Mr./Mrs./Miss Pomme de Terre?

This type of situation develops when the project manager (PM) does not exercise proper control over the project. The project leader should have assigned drawing and revision control to someone who knew the drafting standards. Once the situation came to light the PM should have taken action to rectify the situation. Instead the PM allows the team members to bicker.

At the Pickles, Pickles and Pickles architecture firm (I was an inmate there for a while) we had a PM that was not your friend but he did understand how to get a project done on time and on budget. I liked working with him because you knew what was happening and where everyone was on the project.

Your PM (Mr. Potato Head) needs to stop trying to feel good about the project and get their head out of the dirt and run the project.

Mile High Pixie said...

Sadly, Howie is the PM on Pomme de Terre. The admin tasks of the job absorb a fair amount of his time. Not only that, but CAD has so far surpassed him in the short time in which he's been a PM (less than 6 years) that he can barely understand how it works anymore, much less the implications of what we're fighting about. Still, I too wish he'dve sat in that meeting to realize that he put the wrong person in charge of the drawings, or at least that she was put in charge too soon.