adventures in salvaging the client relationship

Things got moving with the client pretty quickly. It didn’t feel quick at the time, but within the first six weeks, we had identified a solution to a client problem that was going to be comparatively easy to implement, considering the alternatives. All we had to do was take an existing course, strip out all the stuff that the client didn’t want and dump in a whole new pile of information.

J. was in charge of this initiative. She had myself and one of her team, H., for backup. The problem was all this information that we were going to drop into the existing course had never been compiled before. The additional problem was that the Boozers had all of the content… Okay, this is going to take some background:

Government departments are divided up like this. At the cabinet level, you have Departments – the Department of State, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior etc. Within these departments, you have Bureaus. In the Department of State, for instance, you have a bureau for regions in the world, then bureaus that deal with the “other? areas of necessities like the UN and Non-proliferation. The bureaus are then further divided. I’m pretty sure that each Department divides it’s bureaus by different names… Divisions, Sections, Units or some variation on the theme.

So within my client’s organization, I’m working at the lowest level of the org chart. The Boozers are working for another office on the lowest level of the org chart, but we answer to the same office a line or two up the organization. The boozers were *supposed* to be providing the content that we are now rolling into our training content. They haven’t. So we have to dig this information out, and the boozers are recalcitrant on their most cooperative days and they don’t have many of those.

When they finally comply, they dump a document of over 1,000 pages on our lap and tell us that this is the source material, but they have not yet identified which information from the source material needs to be disseminated to the entire employee population.

J., H., and myself take over two desks and spread the document out. We review each of the appendixes and identify two that are relevant. Yippee, we’re now down to around 300 pages. We spend two weeks on this crap, writing new sections, modifying others… I end up with a 60 page collection of slides which I have to take back to TxInc and translate for the development team. And I’m terrified. Failure here is going to land on the front pages of the Washington Post for sure, and I’ve got to translate the oddities of the federal government to TxInc in such a way that everyone understands everyone else and all of our deadlines are met.

Well, things calm down while we are in development – three weeks of respite. And then we launch the pilot program.

Very quickly, it all goes to hell. They have just pushed through an upgrade to their system that included a version of Java that is several generations old. All of the courseware that is on their internal learning system isn’t running correctly because the player doesn’t work with the old Java version. Getting a new Java version pushed out could take months. This is a mandatory course and I’ve got disgruntled employees taking the course three or four times and not getting the requisite check-in-the-box to tell the tracking system that they’ve completed it. Disaster is inevitable, so I throw myself under the bus.

Every communication that goes out on this thing comes from me, has my e-mail and phone number on it and encourages people to contact me for trouble-shooting.

Meanwhile, JT, my trusty counterpart in the office that does the learning management system, is fighting tooth and nail to get a new version of Java pushed through the bureaucracy. Who knows how many calls they field in any given day. I face at least 60 new messages on a daily basis, never-mind a full voice mail-box. I have extensive spreadsheets full of the names of those who have completed the course but haven’t been given credit, combined with the spreadsheets that JT is sending me with thousands and thousands of lines of information, which must be sorted and divided by the highest level of the org chart – of which there are about 80. My computer crashes from lack of memory. I can’t get more than about 5 minutes of any one thing done because my phone keeps ringing.

But here’s the problem with the calls I’m getting: people need their passwords reset, right? And I can’t do that for them. Every communication we’ve sent gives the procedure for having their passwords reset, which is to e-mail the request to the people who are in charge of the learning management system. It isn’t like the info isn’t out there. But no. People call me. And they want to know how to send an e-mail. Um. You know outlook? No? Well, look on your desk-top for the tan square that looks like it’s got a clock face inside of it. Your desk-top? That is where you are when no computer programs are open. Got that? Okay. Now click twice on that little tan box…

You think I’m exaggerating? Here’s the sad part: NO EXAGGERATION.

On top of all of this, I’m in daily communication with the highest level of the organization’s Executive Management, who are exceedingly angry with this mandate. So I’m getting bitched out, after which I then have to emphasize what we are trying to accomplish, tell them how important they are to our success and develop their buy in. The highlight of this interaction is the director who cancels everyone’s vacation until they have the course completed.

Six weeks of this. We had six weeks to meet a Federal goal of over 90% of our people trained. With a java issue. With a population that doesn’t read communications and doesn’t know what Outlook is.

On the day the report was submitted, 95% of the employee population had successfully completed the course.

Now, perhaps this is bragging, but I’ll carry on regardless. J. and H. were deeply involved in the development of the new content. My development team at TxInc. did an amazing job. JT in the education office kicked ass and got the Java update pushed through for the last two weeks of the training. The rest of that shit was all me. Getting executive management on board? Me. Updating executive management on the progress? Me. Interacting with a huge chunk of the 28.000 employees? Me. Statistics? Me. It was my project, and I’m damn proud of it. There is nothing better than knowing what needs to be done, doing what it takes to get it done and having it turn out better than anticipated…

adventures in salvaging the client relationship

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