Six Months to Satisfaction- Large Team Frustrations

Q: What’s your most frustrating experiences as an engineer?

A: Basically not being listened to.

Like most people as an engineer not being listened to ranks up at the top of my frustration. While it’s easy to manage this in a one on one working relationship it becomes much harder in a larger team. Let me tell you about a three-day face to face when I fully lost my cool due to not just a lack of listening, but total disrespect for the team and process.

Circa 1997-98 I worked on a large team software project to do subteam of the Intel Compilers group the debugger and VTune- performance.  Because the performance analyzer worked with the other tools they both used a lot of the same techniques and software hooks.  Shared code and more hands for lifting and to share best practices. For an upcoming set  work,  to hammer out the processes and who worked on what we held a three-day summit at the Jones Farm campus. Team members from Oregon, Israel, California and a few other sites sat in one of the training room and worked the hell out of our product. We mapped up on the board the schedule, the deliverables, what technology we would use and the processes and all this sort of stuff. We had negotiated every damn thing we could. We said “This is it.”

Then one guy, the prima donna of the bunch, lobbed a hand-grenade by stating “No I can’t do this.”  We just spent three days– representing hundreds of engineering hours– going over this. He had a chance at any point during those three days to say “Yay” or “Nay” on this. At the end he tries to sabotage it, partly because he likes to provoke people.  That’s part of his nature.

Well,  I just lost it. I tapped my diaphragm and just loudly cut into him in front of everyone. But suddenly stopped and just walked out back to my cube. Later my boss came and asked “what just happened?” And, it was like what do you mean just what happened, you were there! I said “Screw that he’s a prima donna, he does good work but he’s not worth it!” If he did not like it, he needed to “disagree and commit” that’s Intel culture. But hey he didn’t want to do that, he was looking to provoke and was surprised as anyone when it blew up. It was one of the few unbelievably frustrating times in my life. Funny too, because we eventually made up and he and I became okay friends in part because I did call his BS.  Extroverts.

I looked at it as I didn’t want to clean up the mess that this was going to become. I told them “I’m out of this, you tell me what you guys do and what we’re going to do and I’ll do it. Because I’m done with negotiating.” This had been a flat out hand grenade; it was an emotional stunt that he pulled– let’s see how I can control things. And I don’t play that kind of game.  I don’t need to deal with this- so I let it go and focused on the work.

My boss tried to console me.  Tried all the management skills to get me turned around to their viewpoint.  No, I knew the tricks and wasn’t having it.  I said, “Forget it. Just tell me what to do because I’m done with that.  Disagree and commit, right?”  I let it go. And of course the 4-person management team decided that the group should take his approach, ignoring not just me but others on the team as well!

Six months in to the project they said “You’re right we can’t do it the way he wanted to do it.”  Chuckling–damn right, although I had to wait for that sense of satisfaction.

Q: How did you emotionally recover from that, not being listened to?

I don’t.  I’m naturally an introvert, so I hold it inside. Chews me up.  Extroverts and others who blow up all the time don’t understand.  I don’t like to blow up, it’s painful and I don’t know how to do it.  Eventually I get that energy dispersed in other ways.

After the blowup, others asked “Are you okay?” Yes, I was and said so. Because I’m pretty even keeled, the fact that I blew up was the big deal. Everyone took notice.  The team did not know how to deal with it themselves.   So I found that I had attacked back in a way that they really did not understand how to handle.   They either agreed with the corporate mantra of Disagree-and-commit, or show that they did not. That was interesting, in that it changed some of the team dynamics that day.  It made me even more cautious about what sort of information to share, and how to share it.  Passive-Aggressive responses are sometimes a good option!

Have a Productive and Happy Day,

Richard Vireday

Dear Reader, please share your comments and stories that are sparked by this piece. During an engineering project what has made you the most frustrated? Share a story of what made you blow up?  See Contribute for how you can share a story at The Engineers’ Daughter.

Additional Reading

Photos to Include:  Map Day:  Post It Notes on  board, with people around it.

QA and regression testing…

Agile/Lean,  Larget team processes

MAP meetings for 3 days


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