The user is always right
November 23, 2011 12:53 PM Subscribe
I get really frustrated with the process at my workplace, particularly meetings. After many details, I have a couple of questions about work (specifically software development and project management decisions) and how to deal with meeting-related frustration.
posted by sarahj to work & money (30 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I work for a small research department of a larger business. Myself and a second person were hired to create a software application to assist in the research this department does. Neither of us has had a software development position before. We are under the guidance of a Project Manager (PM) who has worked in marketing and is knowledgeable in this specific realm of research but not in software. There are a few other "advisory" team members: A couple of researchers familiar with the research process, a programmer 'consultant', and the lead researcher, the visionary behind this software application.
The second programmer and my roles are pretty much the same - we both work on all aspects of the project. We started with nothing except a vague goal that has changed tremendously over time. When we started, I decided on the programming language to use (this fact is important and overwhelming and embarrassing to me, because it makes me feel like a) I should be an expert in all things related to the language [I'm not], and b) that any limitations of the application are my fault because I picked the language). At this point we have more or less finished the basic application and we have a well established "to-do" list of features. In addition to creating this application, we are occasionally given writing tasks to do, mock-ups to make, presentations to make for researchers to show elsewhere, and documentation tasks. Part of our role has also been to help design this application, which I've found to be difficult given the complexity of this research and my lack of depth of knowledge in it.
However, I'm having a problem with the processes here. I cannot tell if these are personal issues that I have and need to get over (such as being a control freak, or not understanding how "work" works), or if these are issues anyone would have in this situation. This is my first job after college and I really do not know what is "normal."
Many times during the week we have meetings that are just the three of us - two programmers and PM. When PM is around these meetings can happen one to three times a day. Full project-team meetings happen weekly. Lately I am finding that I have to suppress a huge amount of annoyance and frustration before and during these meetings, particularly the PM-only ones. To hide it, I try not to volunteer input, and I say as little as possible to get the meeting over with. Other tactics (providing and defending my opinion, suggesting an idea) have proven unsuccessful. A PM meeting is usually something like the following:
- "Can you come into my office and look at something? Look at [X feature on some commercial program]. Can we do something like that for [Y feature on our program]? Is it hard to do?"
- "Let's go through this list of comments from users. User A thinks the label on this button should be different, let's change that. User B thinks [Z feature on our application] should be more like [Q feature on commercial application]. [Head researcher] would like that. How long would it take to do that?"
- "Let's look at your mockups for the next to-do feature. Can we make it look more like [existing application] I showed you? What if a user wants to [do more complex thing we didn't discuss before]?"
In our last full team meeting, PM had my co-programmer demo the progress of a feature. The resulting team conversation was about rearranging stuff on screen, and eventually went backwards to discussing changing an existing feature. (Co-Programmer and I do not have the authority to say "No, we aren't going to change that.") After this I presented some mock-ups PM asked me to do. I only got to slide 3 of 20. The team discussion was about user privileges (something that has been discussed greatly but not decided on), and the conclusion from Head Researcher was "let's come up with more general concepts for the feature." Another point of frustration for me was that it had previously been agreed that my mock-ups would apply to a clearly defined scope of the project, but much team discussion was about having the feature in a larger scope that would be more complex (and confusing to users) and take more time to create. I will probably end up having to implement both.
Re-reading these things, they do not seem that bad and I should be able to suck it up and deal with it. However, for some reason I have become conditioned to feel overwhelmingly ANNOYED by meetings. I dread them. I am starting to dread hearing PM's voice. I am struggling to articulate why I feel this way. I think it is because nothing is ever decided. We never get a chance to perfect and fix problems in what we have because we are always adding new bells and whistles and changing things to make the team happy. If I volunteer what I think is valid input, it's not used or it's modified until it's complicated. I feel kind of bad for the users of this application and I don't have much pride in the result - but I am not a researcher/user so maybe it is completely fine!
Another short story: When Head Researcher thought we might want to get input from a user interface consultant, I quickly jumped on it and found one. I was hoping that some things might get finalized faster if we had an authority on software design and development giving us advice. Nobody really knew 'how to use' the UI consultant. We do not get input from them any more because "the research process is too complex" and they can't help us with designing features without us taking lots of time to teach them about the process.
Yesterday when talking to PM, they said "No, you really seem more angry when things don't go your way" and I internally said oh no everyone here thinks I'm selfish and bitchy and angry all the time, better apply for jobs on the other side of the country so I can never see any of them again. I wasn't able to express that I'm trying really hard not to be a jerk, it's not because things don't go my way, I really don't care if someone likes my input or not, it is this inexplicable frustration I feel at the process of things here. PM's comment to me from yesterday and my internal reaction to it are leading me to seek advice here.
What I need help on is:
- Are these normal processes for software development? Are these meeting situations par for the course, or is it just my particular workplace? Do I just not understand something here?
- Is my inner meeting rage completely unjustified? Do I have anger problems?
- How can I get rid of my meeting frustration and just be a normal worker who works? If I can't get rid of it, how can I better hide it?
- Does this mean I will be frustrated as a software developer anywhere?
Thanks for taking the time to read this mess. I can attempt to clarify anything as needed. But feel free to tear me apart. I think I need it.