Thursday, November 11, 2010

Who watches the Watchmen? Part 2 of 2

It's been a while since I mentioned the MRI project with Will. Since Will is a partner, he usually isn't that involved in the day-to-day management of a project. Therefore, an associate is the next level down at my office (and at many firms across the country) who would actually manage a project. For the MRI project, Will assigned Orville as the managing associate, me as the architect, and Intern Devon as the intern/drawing-and-printing lackey. It's a small project, really--we're putting in an MRI into an existing space and renovating some nearby offices as well. What makes it tough is that the project has to be built on a really fast schedule so that research group that's going in halvsies with the research facility can move into the MRI suite in March and start doing their research. Like big research. Like they're-on-the-cusp-of-curing-three-major-diseases big. Oh, and did I mention that we haven't even finished the construction documents for the project, and they're picking the contractor in December? And they want all this done in less than three months (Jan-Mar)?

I'll wait a moment while all my architectural readers twitch and convulse regarding those last few sentences.

So, Will puts me on the project because I've done four MRIs in ten years, three of them in the last five years. Will brings on Orville presumably to run the project and because he has a lot of construction experience and has done two MRIs himself. However, in the past couple of months, I have found that I really like Orville as a person and loathe him as an architect. I'm having to get all the engineers in the room for coordination meetings and and run those coordination meetings as well as the meetings with the users and basically run this project. Orville has done the specs for the project (eventually), but hasn't really reviewed the drawings at any point that I can tell. He comes in at ten am and calls me eventually to ask "hey, did uh....did you see...........this...this email from So-and-So...?" And my response is almost always, "Yeah. Go up in your email about five or six exchanges to where So-and-So responded at 9:34 am and you'll see our solution to the problem." Dude wasn't even in on Friday, and these drawings are due this Monday. While Orville has had some interesting comments and suggestions on how to fix things, it's like his head isn't even in the project most of the time. Even riding in a car with him from the research facility back to our office is unsettling and time-wasting--there's a quick exit off the highway that takes you straight to our office, but he's wandering all over the back roads of Denver's industrial fringes and has-been neighborhoods.

This is my fear, as un-PC as it might be to say or write it: I think Orville is going senile.

He's 67, and several years ago he had some work done on his heart (stents or something), and according to my dear friend Vinnie the psychologist, having your heart worked on in such an invasive way can really slow you down both in terms of physical speed and mental processing capacity. And I fear that's what's happened to Orville. He is quite literally acting too slow to be on this project with Devon and me. So on a project in which I'm only supposed to work about 4-8 hours a week (which is what Will told Sven), I'm working more like 20 hours a week because it's the only way to make the project even stand a chance of being successful.

So here's my question, faithful readers: is it wrong of me to express this concern to Sven? I feel like I'm being ageist if I say something like "Orville is too slow to run this project", but I feel like I need to explain to Sven why I'm not able to fully keep on top of the four Gestalt projects I'm running for him and why I've had to work overtime for the past couple of weeks. Further, I'm hearing from other folks in the office that they've had similar experiences in working with Orville (e.g., the interior designer who had to suck it up and run the client meetings because they no longer had the patience for Orville's constant non sequiturs, jokes, and random stories of his childhood growing up in Leadville). At least people like him (which is more than Howie can say for himself at the moment), but working with him is frustrating and unproductive.



LMH said...

That's a tough situation. There is little management recourse to take - do you talk to Will about Orville being too old? What's he going to do about it? Can't do much.

So, it sounds like you have to do what you are doing - your job and his. Orvile won't notice he's too old for the job, and it's illegal for someone else to tell him so. It's surprising he didn't get let go in the many rounds of layoffs.

Kimberly said...

I think you could tell Sven that the MRI project is taking up more of your time than expected and let him draw some conclusions from that. I probably wouldn't call out Orville.

paul mitchell said...

When it comes down to the nut-cutting, the reason for your position is to make money. If there is someone that is throwing off the fast-track schedule, it is your responsibility to speak up. That is your JOB, in my opinion. It might seem heartless and cruel, but it is just business and your goal is to be the best in your field, obviously.

If you simply do not want to hurt the guy's feelings, that is wonderful, tell Will the situation, that you are taking control and move forward. You need to be recognized for your talents that keep the project on schedule. Plus, it helps Will with future scheduling to know that Orville is off his game.

Projects like this are my favorite. Get in, finish the project, get paid. Awesome.

Andrea said...

you could talk about the problem (that he is to slow) without attributing it to age. Or to anything. Just let Sven know about the problem.

Scarlett said...

Pixie - it may not be so much age as it is Alzhiemers. That's usually how it presents at first, especially if the person is adept at covering for the memory losses. He's also at the right age. Your description of this was frighteningly similar to what my grandmother was like.

I think you have an obligation to tell the partners that you think something is physically wrong with Orville - if he is sick, he needs care, not enabling.

It could also be something else, but this very extreme behavior is historically out of character, so I would make the assumption that something is REALLY WRONG with him, not just a decline due to age. You need a senior staff member to up their interaction with him to determine what is going on, and you need to raise the flag. You're not qualified, but the senior staff is.

And I would hope that someone would intervene with me if I started acting very much out of character, regardless of age. This may be a cry for help that he doesn't even realizing he's making.

good luck. keep us posted.

Also? Howie is a Douche. He needs to be taken down a notch. Good luck with that as well.

St. Blogwen said...

Following up on what Andrea and Scarlett said, yes, you should bring it up. Definitely not, "Orville is getting too old for this!" but more expressing concern for him and just giving the facts on his behavior on the MRI project.

You need tactfully to make sure the partners know that you're spending so much more time on this project because you're doing two people's jobs, not because you can't get your work done in the allotted time. They might know that already, if only from your reputation, but it doesn't hurt to make sure.

Anonymous said...

Nah. What Kimberley said. If it's that big a problem, the partners will figure it out.

"It's just business" is rationalization for doing bad things, and it is a philosophy that will gut you at some point in your life; loyalty and history should have some importance.

Mile High Pixie said...

First of all, thanks to everyone for their comments. It's interesting to see the range of opinons on this.

I have no problem explaining to Sven that I had to do more on the project because it seemed like Orville was always behind. It turns out several people in the office have had this problem with him, and it's not fair to all the people having to pick up his slack.

Loyalty and history may have TOO much importance in Orville's case. He's been at our office for a long time, and many folks wondered why he wasn't laid off in the past two years, as he's not terribly productive. It has also been my experience in my ten-plus years here at Design Associates that the partners don't see everything. They see some things, but not everything.

For me to say "the project took more time than I thought" makes me look like I don't know how to judge how long it takes to work on a project, which is basically untrue and in this case, a lie. If Orville were going throgh a temporary hard time and needed me to cover for him, that's one thing. But this is an ongoing problem that needs to be addressed if intern after architect after interior designer has to do their job plus part of his on every project. And for me this isn't business--it's personal. I'm watching a really good architect flail outside his zone of comfort and competency, and I wouldn't want to be in that position myself. Even as a pretty able 35-year-old, I occasionally need someone to save me from my own superhero I-can-totally-do-this-even-though-I-have-fifteen-other-things-to-do complex because I can't see how worn out I am. And sometimes, Sven or Guy will step and say, "You're done. Go sit down." And I'm pissed at first but ultimately thankful that someone called me on it.

It is completely possible to have this discussion with a partner without making it about age, because ultimately it's not. It's about performance on a very high-stakes and fast-paced project. Orville is a good architect, just not on this kind of project. If we had had another three or four weeks, this might not even be an issue.

Bob & Phyllis said...

Pixie, your last paragraph may have pointed out the perfect way to approach this. If Orville is still a good architect, but not a good fit for this very driven, super-speed project, you can certainly couch your concerns in those terms. Mention how Orville's style is more conversational, rambling, with non-sequiturs, jokes, random stories, and how it works very well with most projects. However, this one is under a mega-time crunch and his style is just not working.

That way you can "call him out", but not bring up age, and get the project done with minimal collateral damage.

Good luck.

Wilderness Gina said...

As an aged person my self I feel things going south a little too fast to suit me. My mind doesn't run as fast as it used to ("Use-ta-could! Use-ta-could! That's all we hear from you Newtie!") When pushed, (the Dress From Hell) I can get it done but it takes a lot more energy. The poor guy may have been damaged during surgery. Meybe?
I can just picture it when Howie finds out I CAN tailor after all... "Sure, Howie I'll make you a suit WHEN PIGS FLY!!!" Put on your yamaka and go celebrate Han-i-ka! Ya jerk. (mu wrd is 'kilin' a sign from god?)

faded said...

Ugh, this is a hard one. In high school I remember my father explaining what he did to an employee he had that was like Orville. Without going into detail, my father described a process of publicly humiliating the man. I asked my father why he was doing this to him. My father's answer was that he was "teaching him what he needed to know." I indicated that he was not teaching the man anything, just humiliating him. My father said that is correct, I will humiliate him until he figures it out for himself. The process ended in a nasty public termination with the guy being escorted out of the office. I do not suggest this as a way to deal with the problem.

Orville is 67 and he is probably slowing down some. Based on your discussions he does know his stuff. You need to find a way to express and use his years of experience, knowledge and wisdom.

It could be advice like don't build it that way, it will leak. or it could be a discussion of the juxtaposition of two spacial volumes.

This is really a job for Howie. You need to call Orville out in such a way that Howie will create a roll that uses Orville's wisdom.

This will be especially challenging because Howie is having a bit of a psychotic break right now for unknown reasons.

If we knew more about what is happening with Howie maybe there would be a way Orvill's wisdom could assist Howie?