Deadlines (Intermissions 6)

Again, I don’t feel like writing.

But I will write, because I have something slightly new to say.

Also because I haven’t really said much in a while. And because I will be interested in what I was thinking at the time.

The last substantial entry I wrote here was probably the New Years one. I have had a handful since then but they were all fairly self-contained and detached from the experiences that led to them. Which is fine, they serve their own purpose, but not of the “substantial” sort. The self-contained / concise entries probably are easier to read, but harder to understand due to expansion errors. They’re also only in the form of “This is what I learned”, without also the “This is how I learned it”. Again, it serves a purpose, but I’ve recently been manually archiving threads and pages simply because presenting the essence extract is often not enough. This is one of the things I learned while supplying my quotes blog with what I thought were interesting things I had read that day. First it was single lines, then it was discussions because they were required to give the core lines power, and then I found out some things actually couldn’t be taken out, and they had structures of exorbitant sizes.

Guaranteed that I’m going to be making mistakes in deciding whether something should be told in a story, in a lesson, or not at all. Guaranteed also that I’m not going to tell the story for everything. But I’ll tell some stories. Brevity soul of wit or something, but wit doesn’t get you through everything. Alongside axioms and fables, drills and practice are also a time-tested way of learning things.

_________

One of the most important things I’ve learned recently is to set scope.

My method of working at something was always to just pour resources into it until I felt that it was pretty good – this held even when I didn’t really care about something and only poured when prompted. I never looked for opportunity because my world was small and limited every time I attempted to expand it, and I never set a failure condition either. I expected the final result to be good no matter when I started or how much I had to work with. In an RPG I’d be pure STR. Not sure how I ever got to be grouped in with the nerds, but there you go.

This quarter I was forced to set several failure conditions – called deadlines. Sounds familiar, but deadlines for homework assignments and projects never really had this sort of effect on the past. This time the subject matter was entirely the team’s responsibility, the Prof/TAs were only there to grade our reports. I was able to recite how scope worked, and this is why I chose projects which seemed to be simpler so that more time could be dedicated to refinement, rather than to basic research or manufacturing difficulties. A very good case of not understanding how true the statement was, because as project manager it is my responsibility if things go in pointless directions for too long.

Deadlines can be used for more than just encouraging laziness. This is how I saw people work in high school; people would simply not do anything until the deadline was imminent, at which point they would do something, and then stop at the deadline, claim that they did their best with what they had, and go back to doing whatever it was they were doing. Stripped from those users and their habits, this method actually works quite well. The senior design project I am managing is the axial fan for a wind tunnel. This is for mechanical engineers who have never taken anything to do with aerodynamics. We did spend time educating ourselves, but due to the report deadlines and the total budget, it was/should’ve been fairly clear that research and theory should’ve stopped at some point. It did, but probably much later than it should have.

This is because the deadlines weren’t very dead.

After the first round of research I started setting deadlines but because things kept on going anyways, from the project’s point of view I might as well not have bothered. Granted we did actually find new stuff that ostensibly improves the design by a lot, but this was chance, as opposed to the guaranteed deadlines and the actual fact that the CAD had to be finished. That we were able to find this new method of analysis was not guaranteed as a function of time; to say “because we spent more time on it now we have an accurate design” is equivalent to “because I bought more tickets I won the lottery” – sometimes. This criticism only applies if time is spent after the initial scope-setting and interrupting the other tasks. If the model and report were already complete and research was resumed, then there is no problem: all new and improved methodology can be used in creating the next “product”. There is a difference between being late for this deadline and starting early for the next deadline, namely the huge rush to redo everything for the new development, which because it was rushed would mean it’s not as polished anyways. Again the five months/five years problem.

There were several other scope-setters, such as our manufacturing capability (i.e. none of the fancy curved stuff). But there were more unclear ones than not.

Lack of clarity is the more general concept which kills projects off – projects being a very general term. Between this blog and my previous constant blog was a hole of about four years. I started a few here and there, but I didn’t really have an idea of what I wanted to do, until I did, at which point I started this blog. Granted this blog has changed a couple of times, and I could’ve started new blogs, but in any case I continued writing. Same thing happened again; I started two or three blogs between this blog and my quotes blog because I didn’t consider what scope it would require. A videogame commentary blog would’ve required me to spend a lot of time regularly playing videogames, and a blog collecting really dumb advertisements would require me to watch a lot of dumb advertisements, neither of which I really care for.

A more simple example everyone can probably relate to is attempting to try to do something cool together with friends as kids (“kids” as a general term). The deadline of when to show up isn’t clear, the amount of time they’re supposed to spend over at your place is unclear, the amount of time they’ll spend in total over the course of how long is unclear, and the amount of free food they can expect at the first meeting is also unclear. As a result, they don’t show up. Contrast this to a birthday/party, where it’s fairly clear even if unstated explicitly simply due to experience or social standards.

Making deadlines dead (“deadline” now as a general term) might not be very pleasant, which is probably why there’s no standard social way of doing it, but anyone who accepts dead deadlines has a much nicer experience with long-term actions into the unknown. Deadlines allow for the setting of scope, and generalized, the setting of scope is “creating knowns”. This is the point of a project. It is not “to make something cool”, it is “to make something“. The first task and the only task is to create knowns out of unknowns. Do you have nothing but unknowns? Get some knowns. How do you get knowns? Set a really strict deadline and then start from there. Okay now you have something, how do you make it “cool”? That’s an unknown too. Start somewhere with that too. Okay now you have something that’s somewhat cool. Won’t blow anyone away or win any awards, but it’s pretty good and better than before for sure. How do you make it cooler?

Same idea.

I believe this is what “Perfect is the enemy of good” means.

_________

RE: Who do you want to tell to “Just Stop”?

/blog

This one piece of living garbage team member in my engineering senior design team. This guy is the most worthless shitstain I’ve ever had the displeasure of encountering. I thought I’d seen some bad things before, but this guy got my jimmies rustled, and my housemate who’s known me for sixteen years says it’s the first time he’s seen me so mad for so long.

I used to think that the worst possible thing in a group project was that somebody was not productive and thus making everyone else’s workload larger. Though this is technically not incorrect, it does not describe well or accurately the worst horrors.

The worst thing in a group project is somebody being assigned/responsible for something and then not doing it.

In high school and before I never noticed this because the size and scope of the project were so menial really anybody could do it in one night. Also because people were simpler back then; if they were lazy then you knew it off the bat and the information was basically always available to you. But now in engineering senior design, a class that spans six months, it’s basically impossible to do everything yourself, much less do it in one night, so division of labor is necessary. And now people are more complicated.

I gave this guy a week to work on a report, saying that he’d be responsible for it, though if he needed help or anything he could tell the other two of us on the team what we’d need to do. This was on a Tuesday afternoon, the report due the following Wednesday night. Thursday he gives us two some small tasks, saying he’d handle the rest of it. We’re supposed to meet up online in google docs to help write the report on Saturday, he says he can’t get it working. After I ask twice, he finally gets half the report to me Monday night, saying that he accidentally uploaded it to his own private. Tuesday afternoon we meet up and look it over, and about half of it was done. He leaves very quickly, and me and the other guy actually look in depth what was there, and 80% of it was either wrong or repetition of wrong, so we fixed that 80%. Wednesday at 1PM he sends an email saying he’ll have everything done by 7PM. At 5:40PM he emails us saying that he noticed some major changes had been made without his knowledge or consent, and would ask for an extension. This was after the report deadline was already extended from Monday to Wednesday.

He also spent a whole month researching some wild goose topic. Zero results. Not a single equation reported, not a single professor’s response forwarded. Says we need to test our system for it. Me and the second guy are super busy covering a bunch of other bases so we tell him to do it. He doesn’t. Or actually that’d be better but no, he says he did do it, he just left his notebook at home. Always he’s busy, has a job, needs to go to the doctor or something else I’m apparently supposed to sympathize with because he’s a Valuable Team Member ™. Complained once about a design choice I made, I say if he can come up with one that is better then that’s fine we can compare pros and cons, he doesn’t go and do it. Does no work inbetween meetings, all work has to be us watching over his shoulder. Can’t remember an expression of five terms (only multiplication and division) that was on a midterm which the class spent half the quarter on.

I was about to rip him a new one after that report and he interrupts me after two words and says “Don’t EVER raise your voice at me again.

I’m just sitting there like
[Image: Sx1afTl.jpg]

This week for our final report of the quarter he did zero work and declined to show up to both of the regular time meetings because he supposedly had to work on stuff for other classes. Second guy offers to help knock the work out real quick, he declines that offer too. And today he sends a text complaining about how he’s “feeling left out of the loop“.

Literally cannot make this shit up.

It’s not like I didn’t try to empathize with this guy either, or didn’t give him a chance. I’m vaguely new to this project management stuff and i knew that this was basically his first large scale project so I let him do a whole month on that dumb topic. I didn’t know what it was about, but hey who knows, maybe it’d improve something. And he seemed really into it, so he’s doing what he’s interested in. Then just to make sure he actually did some work I assigned him that report. He said he’d get outline done by thursday, it didn’t happen, okay whatever. He said he’d work on the main body of the report by saturday, didn’t happen, okay whatever. Showed us the goods on tuesday boy were they rotten so me and the second guy fixed it. Email at 1PM saying it’s gonna be done by 7, ok good. email at 5:40 saying he’ll do what he can, okay fine, so long as it’s done.

He made no changes between 7:27PM and 8:00PM. The only work he had done was add four one-line captions that Wednesday.

I can’t fathom the reason why he still bothers showing his face. Actually I could, if he showed up and was actively asking questions about what needs to be done or what he can do to help or some idea he came up with that he had done some initial calcluations on. But no, he just shows up, “tired”, waiting to be spoon fed.

If I could tell him to just get the fuck out of my sight for the entirety of this course and me and the second guy will handle everything, that’d be less energy than having to deal with this feces, and that in turn is significantly less energy than finding out shit didn’t get done and dropping absolutely everything so that I could write a week’s worth of effort basically from scratch within four hours.

But he’s not fucking off. So I’m going to find a way to make it fun making him feel like the aborted bucket of half-developed flesh he should’ve been, cause I’m doing 50~75% of this supposedly 3 man project, and I need to keep myself sane.

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3 thoughts on “Deadlines (Intermissions 6)

  1. Pingback: Reverse Flowers for Algernon | All Else Is Halation

  2. Pingback: Contractor Without a Contract | All Else Is Halation

  3. Pingback: The Top 10 Things I Learned of at College [1~6] | All Else Is Halation

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