Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Starting Over and Over

Last year, I wrote on these pages about how the team I worked with found out that a long standing contract we had been working on was coming to a close, our disappointment, and how were working hard to learn our new roles.

Basically, we were starting our careers within the company over again.

When all the dust had settled, I was delighted to find out that I would be working on a brand new project – not merely maintaining a system someone else had designed and built. This project was large in scope, deemed to be critical to the future success of our organization, and would usher in some radically new technology that would transform many aspects of how we currently do business.

I travelled frequently for weeks at a time on this project. Weeks away from my family and leaving my full time career Registered Nurse of a wife to deal with all those aspects of raising two little girls along with her own professional duties.

We had what we considered to be great success on this project as we delved deeper and deeper into what the users of our new system would need and require. And we put those pieces together in design, intricately integrating various solutions together to result in one very impressive result of a design.

But when we pitched our designed solution, our vision of what we were to build, we were not applauded. There were no standing ovations. Instead we heard gasps. Gasps for what their perception of the size and scope of the solution would be. Gasps at tentative project timelines as they crept across months and into years to complete.

The final solution was going to weave together existing components for collaboration, contact relationship management, and our prestigious claims adjudication system. Very little would be written from scratch. Most components would simply be tweaked and customized. But as any good project manager knows, you always manage expectations of delivery dates of large projects by adding contingency time planning.

So what was once a high-priority and eagerly anticipated solution was now being balked at by those who control both resources and budgets.

My role was to partner with another systems engineer as we pieced this solution together. Once completed, implemented and deployed, I would carry this new system with me to another branch of our IT group to ensure they understood it, to manage it, and to extend it further as time went on.

It was a career opportunity. It was one of those few opportunities to move up in an environment with a very low glass ceiling for professional mobility. And our team was making the very most of it.

And then I went off work for three weeks for knee surgery.

I returned to work two weeks ahead of the doctors desired recovery period as I was excited to get back to the project.

But upon entering the office that first morning back, I was called into my Manager's office. And the news was not good. It appears while I was away, the decision had been handed down from above that this project was not that important after all. The priority had dropped. The interest had evaporated. And the project was shelved.

As any good project manager knows, once a project is shelved, its chances of being rekindled are little or none.

I was told that I would be moving into the group that maintains existing projects. The group I was going to join bringing this project with me. Only now I was joining empty handed. It was explained to me that my return to this team was indeed unexpected – but not to worry, we will find something for you to do.

The opportunity to advance was lost. My mobility to rise professionally seeming stifled.

My disappointment was immense. And I apologized to me new team management for my disappointment, they responding with empathy.

So I find myself now in the awkward position of starting over starting over.

Do I feel I failed on my last assignment? No. I consider the work we did do to be of tremendous value. Do I feel I let this project fail? Perhaps only by taking this time to have my knee surgery done – eliminating the potential for face-time to persuade a decision maker. But I had no control over resourcing, or timelines. Their needs were what they stated them to be. The scope of the project was scaled only to satisfy those needs.

Now those needs go unsatisfied.

So now I spend my days learning data models for other systems so I can support their maintenance.

My career must sit on hold at least for now. Because again, I am starting over.

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