Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The August Update

It sure feels like the month has flown by, but in some ways it crawled. I billed fewer hours in August than at any time in the past 18 months - I took time off. I worked short days. I spent evenings lazily watching 30 Rock episodes rather than pushing powerpoint slides around. I was somewhat LAZY... but I also got back on my fitness regimen, exercising thrice weekly and making use of a simple yet demonic tool called the "TRX Suspension Trainer".

 We bought cars. We re-did Bella's bedroom. We had weeks in which no room in the house could be navigated in more than two paces straight ahead, forcing weaving around piles of this, that, and oh yes the other thing. We had a dog in a cone, and fed him by hand. We had a jealous dog who we fed by hand just so he wouldn't feel left out. We had kids who were getting MORE AND MORE BORED by the entire world of summer and who can recite the Phineas and Ferb theme song in their sleep. I know who Perry the Platypus and Dr Doofenschmirtz are now.

 I took a couple of short business trips and got stuck in Atlanta. I took 3 days at the lake without a laptop or iPad. Bella and I picked up Book 7 of Harry Potter again, and I got to do my Kreacher voice again. Isaac has thoroughly exhausted what can be achieved by climbing the lilac tree in the back, and has been eyeing other trees for possibilities. I have realized that I moved the play camper in such a way that if not this summer, then certainly by spring Isaac will work out that he could easily climb onto the garage roof from it.

 Isaac has been having babysitting/playdates with Colin, who is a relentlessly athletic boy across the street, and the two of them play sports, and time disappears. They also play Wii, and cars. They're 6 years apart, but genuinely like each other's company.

We hit the State Fair and it was wonderful: Not too hot, first day so everything was fresh and clean and everyone was still friendly. As we walked through the barns, one girl raced up to us with a chicken and encouraged the kids to pet it. A full table of rabbits was there for the petting. As we walked past a lamb shearing, the farm family offered the kids a big handful of wool to take home. I ate a LOT of sausage, as is my divine right.

 My friends Nick and Paul lost their mom to a very scary disease, and we all mourned.

 August is over now, and September brings with it a bunch more business trips (Akron next week, Philly the week after, Madison the week after that)... while still working my main Minneapolis gig. Fall will be busy. The kids will be back in school - Bella will be in 3rd Grade, Isaac still in Pre-K. Synchro will be starting again, as will Circus school.

Bella will start Guitar Lessons next week too - and I will gladly sit with her to learn Kumbaya. I'm imagining her smile as she makes a successful chord. Isaac's energy will need to be channeled. Perhaps a drum set.

 August was a great month.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Into Battle

After a wonderful couple of days at the Lake and a productive interlude back at the main client in Minneapolis, I have spent two days deep in the clutches of the darkest monsters in the consulting world.

It started Thursday afternoon: I was headed back to Maryland for a "final" visit with the client out there: We had done work in the Feb to May timeframe, and I've been trying since then to present my findings to the board, who meet for a mere 90 minutes every month. I was bumped from the agenda in June (hours before boarding my flight out there). I was bumped from the agenda in July (the notification came while my flight was in air, so I did NOT cancel that trip - but it was great fun anyway because I got to hang out with Erik in DC).

This week, I got confirmation, then double-checked. Then triple checked. No I was not going to be bumped this time. But as I booked the travel, my spider sense was tingling… all of the direct flights were booked. I had no choice but to connect. What could possibly go wrong?

We landed in Atlanta and headed to the connecting flight, waited a little while on the tarmac, then wheeled back to the gate: BAD WEATHER somewhere in the DC area was preventing our departure. We all deplaned and hung out waiting for news. The weather lifted, but then we lost our crew due to work restrictions, so we were clear to go, but needed to wait for a replacement crew. Finally by 10pm, we had a crew and were in the air… and on the way we circled for an extra 30 min while more storms passed. I had got on in Minneapolis at noon, and landed in Baltimore at midnight.

Further frustrations ensued - a very slow possibly incompetent checkout guy at the car rental place delayed me a further 20 minutes. When I got to the hotel, the door was locked and it took me 5 minutes of banging and calling to get the clerk to wake up and come let me in. My head finally hit the pillow at 2:30 am. And the wakeup call came at 6am.

After the shower, I grabbed my electric shaver and felt it die in my hand as I finished the right side of my face. A quick trip down to the front desk secured me some shave cream and a "razor" to finish the job, and it's a miracle I didn't slit my throat accidentally.

I made it to the presentation and NO I did not get bumped. YES it went off without a hitch. I was running on pure adrenaline, making grand hand gestures and didn't even notice until after I sat down that my cuffs were unbuttoned and had been flapping wildly as I waved at the data flow diagram showing exactly where those hand washing and pressure ulcer statistics were going to be stored for future reporting in my grand vision.

I did not walk out of there with a signed statement of work, but it went very well indeed.

In the midst of all this, I spent over 90 minutes across three conversations with our client in Rochester who has decided that while he loves us and our work, and cannot deny we are delivering for him in a big way, he'd like us EVEN MORE if we were 20% less expensive. Now I have been in meetings with this guy and he is what I will call a "Drone Winner" - he will continue to circle back onto the same point over and over and over and over until the opposition throws up its hands and says "this is not worth fighting for anymore". Through this strategy he has somehow risen to the title of CIO in a major health system, and woe be unto any vendor he begins to negotiate with.

And he has decided to negotiate with me.

I have been standing as firm as I can: I am fully prepared to end this engagement and walk away from this work. But GODS this is exhausting. And not fun. I make a point, he agrees with the point, and he says "but if you were 20% less expensive…." as if that would make my point even MORE valid. And so I have been battling with this robot terminator from the future who cannot be stopped but insists on ENGAGING in the conversation…

So that's in the middle of the crazy travel. And now I'm on my way home, and I'm pleased to announce that the trip home is going WITHOUT A HITCH. Flights are on time, traffic was light, and I even caught up on some sleep. I did have a long layover in Atlanta on the way home, but I got caught up on some email and even did a little creative writing. Plus I got caught up on Alphas and Torchwood too!

Oh, and speaking of BATTLE: TNT, I hope you're not expecting me to be watching Falling Skies next summer. That was some WEAK SAUCE the way you ended that…

Friday, August 05, 2011

A long long week

Monday - a big day at the Minneapolis client: We announced our choice of vendor for the major Digital Radiology system we are buying and implementing. I wrote letters to the vendors (the yes and the no), plus a bunch of vendor partners, all of whom were wondering which tool they were going to need to hook into... plus a letter to all of our radiologists to explain that if they have specific issues they want our new vendor to address, let us know now so we can put it into the contract. It was a day of writing.

Monday Night - caught a flight to Philly.

Tuesday - Drove to Jersey to my old client there who wanted a presentation on something called "Information Lifecycle Management". The trouble is that this subject has about 4 major facets - a technical weenie piece, a patient record archiving piece, a legal piece, and an IT governance piece. My presentation hit on 2.5 of these areas, but it turns out the client was more interested in the 1.5 parts I didn't hit on as much. I figured this out about 10 minutes into my 2 hour presentation, so I needed to do a LOT of improvising.

BUT it turned out well in the end: They asked me to put together a project plan to make it happen. So now I just need to whip that up and find 2 people to do the work. Easy.

Tuesday Night - met up with some of my company comrades and had a fine steak dinner, followed by watching my colleagues inhale cigars while I wondered if the smell would ever leave my skin and clothes. I seriously considered throwing away my outfit from the evening.

Wednesday - was very bedraggled in general due to the previous evening, but pulled it together for a meeting in Philly with the Children's hospital I worked at back in 2009. Turns out all of my prep-work and planning is in the same state more or less as it was when I handed it off in 2009. But they're totally finally ready to execute on it. So they want me to come back and oversee a team to put my plan into action.

Next steps are to build out a 6 month plan, find staff to do it, and propose it. Easy.

Wednesday Night - out with my full company leadership at a tapas bar. My entree had a strong taste of shrimp sauce. Shrimp shell actually. It wasn't entirely pleasant, though others had the same thing and wolfed it down. I guess I'm just not a sprimp guy. I'm ok saying that now.

Thursday - ALL DAY MEETING: What is our strategic plan for the next 5 years? How can we get there? I was actually pretty jazzed - we have a LOT going on in our company and I'm definitely in a good place right now. DEFINITELY.

Thursday Night - Went to a dinner place called Fri Sat Sun. Dinner was ok, but the dessert was amazing - puff pastry with vanilla custard, topped with berries and caramel. Mmmmmm.

We headed out as a group to see our friend Gregg's house: They're blogging their updates HERE and they are actually going to be on a DIY Network show in the fall - they had their 4th floor redone for a home improvement show. It is an amazing space, and I swear they are investing an insane amount into this. But they love it, love the house, love the west Philly neighborhood. The house is from 1881 and is just amazing.

Friday - ALL DAY MEETING: Went over our tactical plans - my Minneapolis Market plans and my Business Intelligence plans. Bascially, if we could hire 5 people in the next 2 weeks for my projects, I'd have them working for a long time. And that would be good. Our best minds are thinking on this now.

Friday Night - flew home from Philly, got home. Pamela was asleep when I walked in at 9:30. Gesso has spent the evening at my feet. Isaac woke up to pee 20 min ago, and asked for some cuddles to get back to sleep. All is good in the world.

Sure would be nice to take a break.... BUT SATURDAY IS COMING. It's my 25th High School Reunion, and I planned it. I have no idea how many people are coming... we'll be selling tickets at the door and I sure hope people show up. I do have about 40 pre-payments which doesn't really cover costs, but it'll do for a start.

My old buddy Jeannine won't be making the trip. Another person paid, but needs to back out because she was just diagnosed today with breast cancer and starts treatment on Monday, and strangely is prioritizing spending time with her family over 25 year people from the past.

It's a full day affair - a picnic in the late AM, and a party in the evening. And I'm officially NOT planning the next one - this has aged me.

So I'm REALLY looking forward to Sunday and the week ahead where yes I'll be busy, but I'll be home. And Home is GOOD.