Re: Top 10 Things I Wish I'd Know Before Going Independent

Subject: Re: Top 10 Things I Wish I'd Know Before Going Independent
From: Zawadi Olatunji <editor -at- comprehensiveediting -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 14 Feb 2001 10:23:09 -0800

GEORGE Grider 901/360-4002 wrote:

> One item that ranks near the top, both in importance and subtlety, is
> FIND OUT WHO'S CALLING THE SHOTS.

I've been lurking on the list for about 6 months. But this post has prompted me
to speak up.

This is SO true! This same thing happened to me during one of my first contracts
-- it was my only bad contract to date (knock on wood!). I was a content
producer and this hiring manager (straight out of Dogbert's Top Secret
Management Handbook ), who I thought was my client, assigns me to a large
project the minute I step through the door. They were planning to dump a section
of the Web site, and replace it with new pages that would be somehow consistent
with the new look and feel of the completely new corporate site that they were
planning to launch in six months.

I told my manager that the project was similar in scope to one handled by her
production manager that took 3 months. My manager (one of many VPs) nodded her
head, feigning acknowledgment, and went full speed ahead with her 3-week
deliverable date. Meanwhile, the group who was responsible for the content in
this section of the site (my actual clients) grew impatient and angry due to
unresponsiveness and delays from various members of my department.

When I reported this to my manager, she told me to come up with a project plan.
Never having done anything like that outside of course work, I picked the brain
of my tech-writer-turned-project-manager mentor, and came up with a schedule. I
e-mailed it to everyone on the team. My introductory sentence was "In the
absence of a project manager, I have been asked to prepare a project plan..."
And oh my God, you should have seen how the proverbial shit hit the fan!

I was later clued in by another contractor in the other department. She told me
that each department in the company acted like independent mini-corporations.
Most other groups didn't care for the group that I found myself in because of
their -- OK, I'll just say it -- incompetence. All the Web content was supposed
to go through my department, but just to avoid dealing with my department, many
people sent text to be uploaded straight to the developers -- who were very
tired of the word-processing duties that had been thrust upon them.

Suddenly, the hiring manager informs me that she is not my client with this
"duuhh" look on her face. She said that my e-mail made the group "look bad" and
that my clients were not aware that there wasn't a project manager on board --
which was a little like the emperor-not-wearing-any-clothes thing. The lack of a
project manager had been my "client's" biggest gripe. Then the VP tosses the
pages of text that I've sectioned into chunks, according to the production
manager's instructions (who couldn't seem to remember giving me any such
instructions) and says, "What is this?" My jaw hit the floor. I told her that my
instructions were to restrict the word count in order to adhere to the new
page-weight restrictions. She looked at me like I was speaking a foreign
language. I could see the writing on the wall; and although indignant, I sucked
it up and offered to work the weekend to make it right.

Unbeknownst to me, the VP suddenly hires a contract project manager. The next
day, she calls to tell me not to bother to come in anymore. Three months later,
the new section of the site still had not gone up.

Moral: After flunking out of the hard-knock school of CYA, I learned (1) FIND
OUT WHO YOUR CLIENT REALLY IS and (2) get the appropriate person to sign-off on
your meeting notes when you have been instructed to do something important.

-Zawadi

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