How do I work within the system in spite of the system?
January 4, 2013 1:45 PM   Subscribe

Corporate dysfunction and general structure is causing my job to be difficult, and sometimes impossible. How can I cope best?

In the fall of last year, I was hired to work at a large (40-60k employee) corporation. This is the biggest company I've ever worked for, having previously worked for places that were maybe 10-400 employees. I work in testing for a section of the company's services.

The test server that I'm to use for a current project is so unresponsive that I can't actually perform testing. My project manager is gone for holiday, as is my team lead, so I ended up fighting with Dev Ops directly for about two days to actually look at the problem. It was eventually looked at, but I missed two days of testing...

Some testing data has to go through email verification, but in order to do this the server itself must send the verification email, and since it's so flakey this process can take up to several hours, and I have swaths of test cases that I can't run, making my 2 day fight with dev ops moot.

I'm spending my down time writing pithy ask-metafilter questions and looking for a new line of work

I ran this problem by the person who is in charge of testing data, and he confirmed my problems and noted that it had been this way since he started over a year ago. I said that because of this I was not sure I'd be able to complete my project on time, which he responded with a knowing nod as if this was inevitable.

Indeed, much of my job is simply fighting the system in order to get any work done. Rarely am I simply given a task to do, I must contact several people (who then contact several other people) and wait for The System to respond in order to get what I need to do my job. This does not seem uncommon in general corporate culture, this may be old news to a lot of people.

I'm not used to the culture or the structure, and fitting in has been kind of difficult. My coworkers share a lot of my issues.

During the last project, I was asked to change my opinion on the outcome of a project, despite my experience to the contrary, because our department wanted to avoid extra responsibility. At the time I was really taken aback by this, but in light of the Dev Ops fight and recent problems, I can start to see why we'd want to not do any more than we can, there is so much dysfunction that any more work than the very minimum is simply too much trouble.

As my lead put it "It's all a game", he said, in response to my questions about all of it. He has been in the company for 10 years and said that despite his efforts nothing has changed. It was also at this same meeting I was reprimanded for getting lunch during deployment, I was out of food and had been working for 6 hours, but the expectation was that I sit at my desk during the duration of the deployment without breaks, which lasted about 10 hours. This was never explicitly communicated to me, probably because it violates labor laws, haha

I cannot help but feel like I'm in the middle of a Kafka novel.

So the long term, DTMFA, I think that goes without saying. Thanks to the Job Market, even an aggressive job search will take months, so in the mean time I need to do my job in spite of the organization. How do I do this? If you're in a large company with many layers, how do you deal with the large bureaucracy? If you cannot do your job due to the inaction of others, how do you cover yourself so that it does not come back to you?

If you'd like to offer answers privately, please ask for a memail
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Document, document, document.

When running into issues with other departments, simply send an email and cc your higher ups.

"Just to confirm our discussion regarding the run-time for the XYZ project. I need 4 hours of system time to complete the test, yet you have not been able to provide this for me. Please let me know when I can have this time, and copy eveyone on this email. Thanks."

Now everyone is on notice, you don't have the resource you need to do your job.

Also, every time a deadline is threatened, sound the alarm, all the way up the ladder. Copy your Team Lead AND the Project Manager.

"Due to availability issues with the server, I will be unable to meet the Deadline for the XYZ project. I have not been provided with time via Dev Ops, and until they can accomodate the test, I can't provide the data. Is there a way we can rent time on another server, or use another server in another department to overcome this issue?"

If you have ideas for overcoming issues, note them in emails. Ideas aren't "spend $1,000,000,000 for a new server." Ideas are, "I'll shift my schedule to come in during down time to do the testing." (You won't want to do this, it will suck a haunch, but it's showing that you're thinking and willing to do what it takes to get the job done.)

As for being reprimanded for not staying put for 10 hours during a deployment, this is where passive aggressive comes in handy.

"Based upon our discussion of Dec 8, I understand that I am not to leave my station during a deployment. What is the policy for breaks and meals during deployments that run into meal times? I don't want to make a mistake or violate the policy, and I want to insure that my biological needs are met during these times."

Again, copy all and sundry. Within reason. The team lead and the project manager are fine. Involve an upper level manager if it's a big, hairy deal.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:04 PM on January 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

To avoid blame, document as Ruthless Bunny says. Always have an email trail to cover yourself that you tried to do things by the book. If you didn't meet a deadline due to somebody else not meeting their obligations to you and you can prove that you're in the clear.

To get things done, escalate. You haven't mentioned your boss, but ideally that's who you should go to if you can't get something done on time. Part of your boss's job is to be able to boost the priority of your work when needed. In the longer term figure out who the key people are in other groups who can enable you to get things done and befriend them. The bigger the company the more important unofficial channels are, and the folks who can actually make things happen often aren't identified by title. If your boss isn't available in this way then find someone you respect who has been there a long time with connections to those who get things done and make them your mentor.

Every large company isn't like this, but every dysfunctional one is. If you're looking at another gig (which you should do) at a big place talk to peers, check Glassdoor, etc. to get a feel for what it's like there before signing up. Good luck.
posted by Blue Meanie at 2:06 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

To keep from being demoralized by the Kafaka-esque-ness of it all while you job search, perhaps you could generate a specific-to-your-company version of Coroprate Bingo?
posted by mon-ma-tron at 2:25 PM on January 4, 2013

You can do a blog on the situation, this will help you remember what happened where and may amuse you somewhat.

You could call it, A View from a Roach.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:27 PM on January 4, 2013

Whenever you encounter one of these dysfunctions, do your best to understand how it could be resolved.

When you have accumulated a number of these solutions, put them together into a package such that they can all work together-- harmonize them, in other words.

Then quit, form your own company, and sell the package to them for a significant multiple of your current salary.

posted by jamjam at 2:32 PM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

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