Meeting Facilitation by Emmy


“Emmy, do you have an update on where you are at with getting us the security specs?”

To be honest, when the project manager from our consulting firm asked me this question, I was IM’ing with a friend.  These daily “huddles” went sideways long ago, so I usually go, sit in the back, and try to get through the meetings.  The purpose of the meeting is to check progress on the weekly objective, get issues out in the open, and make sure everyone is generally moving the same direction.  These are now a forum of frustration and random venting from our consultants about how we aren’t doing what they want.

“No, John, I do not have an update.”

“Well, you know this is really important, right?”

“Is it more important than getting the data conversion specifications done or more important than getting configuration tested and signed off on?  Isn’t one past due by a week and the other one due Friday?  I didn’t think we could move on to integration testing until these things were done, or am I missing something?”

“No, those are more important, but I don’t think you understand how hard security is.  What are you doing to make sure this gets done?  Maybe if we showed you how hard it is to set up security, you’d understand why it is important?”

About this time, I am about ready to reach across the table to kill him.  This is the conversation we have had daily for the last two weeks.  I knew what my next statement was going to be.  It would be about how the same team that needs to work on the security specifications is the same team that is a week behind on the data conversion specifications and needs to test and sign off on the configuration this week.  This is the same team that is also validating the report specification and signing off on them.  All four things can’t be their #1 priority.  Then I would conclude with asking if he would like for me to put their other stuff on the back burner and have the team work on the security stuff instead.  Then, he would say “no” to all of that.  Then, launch into another round of the security-is-hard lecture.

I tell myself to take a deep breath and try another tact.  Clearly if I know how the conversation is going to proceed, this tact was not working.  John, the PM for the consultant company, is a walking contradiction when it came to this shit.  He is trying to cover his ass and the asses of his team.  And, he will do that by trying to throw us under the bus.

“John, this discussion has taken 10-15 minutes out of every status meeting for the past two weeks.  And, the conversation always goes the same way.  What is it that you would like me to say right now that will ensure this discussion does not happen tomorrow or the next day?”

There are snickers from the team around the room.  The consultant who John is trying to use as an ally is sitting next to me, and he immediately stiffens at my words.  Clearly he can see that I’m about two minutes away from killing one of them.  He is within arms reach, thus more scared.

“Well, I want a due date. If I have a due date, I will feel better about it.”

“Okay, I’ll have the security personas done by next Wednesday.”

“But what about the rest?”

“John, I have to have the personas done before we can do the specifications, right?”

“Yes, but…”

“So would you agree that it needs to be done first?”

“Well, yes, but…”

“Once I get those done, I will work with you on the specifications.”

“But, then the programming….”

“John, it’s crawl, walk, run….the programming is run….let’s crawl first, then we’ll walk.  Okay?”

“Okay, but I still don’t think you know how hard it is.”

At this point, I stand up indicating I’m done with this meeting.  It was our last topic, and I was done talking about it.  Everyone else starts to leave too.  I decided I needed to get out of the room before I killed one of them.  On my way out, everyone on the core project team for our company is laughing.  They have been fed up with this discussion for a week and love hearing someone call them out on it.   “Thanks, guys, for your support” was my response.

Twenty-four hours later, we are in the meeting again.  The PM for our team makes a joke about needing to discuss security.  We all snicker, and John starts in again.  He has a new approach he wants to take.  I should mention that I spent two fucking hours the afternoon before trying to fill out the template they had to have me use.  It’s a 15 tab spreadsheet with hundreds of rows on each tab.  On each tab, I have to mark each row with not allowed, read only, create, edit or full control.  I was cross-eyed when I was done with the first one. So, hearing he doesn’t want me to use this format – the one he has been harping on me to use for the past two weeks – was not something I was happy to hear.

But, I chose not to engage at this point.  I figured I would do this after the meeting.

What I didn’t expect was the principal partner to be part of the discussion.  I also didn’t expect him to be as pissed off about it as I was.  He tore these guys apart.  Up one side, and down the other.  His parting statement to them was that until they made this task actionable, it was on their heads.

As he and I were in the elevator going to the next meeting, he told me to not listen to them anymore.  They have been bringing this up during their internal meetings as well.  While security is important, it isn’t a show stopper like they were making it.  And, their lack of support in getting this done was driving him crazier.  They were throwing it over the wall and washing their hands of it.  They can’t do that, and he knew it.  At the end of his rant, he tells me that the next time they bring this up I am to tell them to “shut the fuck up about it.”  This guy is not one to curse.  The fact he was fed up with their bull shit to the point where he is telling his client to tell his team to fuck off was priceless.

Our PM who was also part of the conversation chuckled and said, “well, you told the right person to say it.  If anyone will, it will be Emmy.”

That’s my role – to say what no one else will.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Just me... says:

    And all of this we call progress.. If the truth was known and these types of people were silenced or nailed to the wall on their ‘consultations’, it would take about half the time to do a project..
    But, egos have to be massaged..

    And that you’re the one to be counted on to speak up? Well, that’s a good thing!!! :):)

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