What It Feels Like To Be The Cat

Feb 18, 2011   //   by Rob Drysdale   //   Blog, Data, Professional Development  //  1 Comment

Frank as a Kitten

In her recent blog post Herding Cats the Hard Way, Karen talked about trying to herd a cat into a cat crate and that it struck her as being similar to trying to work with business users when you treat them like a cat.  Karen wrote:

The worst part was not being able to explain to Frank why all this was going on.  He had to be treated so there was no question about having to put him through this process.  Unlike a business user, though, we don’t have the opportunity to prepare him for the event with good data, analysis of the cost, benefits, and risks of going to the veterinarian.  He was blindsided by all of this.

All of this made me think of attending meetings where I really did feel like the cat and, like Frank, wanted or needed to lash out.  Over the years I have worked in a number of different areas as both an employee and a consultant and there are times when I’ve been the cat or when I’ve treated others like the cat.  We all know the meetings where someone feels like the cat…the person sits there and doesn’t understand what’s happening, they are reticent and don’t want to participate and they may get really defensive.  All the while, you’ll be sitting there thinking “What’s the problem here? I just want to make it better.”

At one point in my career I managed a contracting organization and a major client hired a system integrator and bought a new ERP system to do their work management.  The system integrator and the company justified this system to the Board of Directors based on benefits or savings and, in fact, the integrator would receive a portion of the savings as part of their contract.  Of course we weren’t privy to all of the information, but they wanted us to participate and tell them we were happy and agree with everything they did.

Frank Snoozing in the SunEvery time we had one of these meetings there was someone in there asking about benefits.   We were okay with that if the benefits were real, but we also foresaw areas where there would be costs associated with using this system.  The integrator and company would hold these meetings, lay out the process, ask about benefits, but never talk about costs.  In fact, when we asked about costs and how they would be handled we were told that was an issue for another group.

Now I can go with the flow and work through a lot of issues, but just like a cat, eventually I’ll lash out if you keep pushing the wrong way.  About halfway through the project we were having another meeting to discuss the process and I talked about how a certain part of the program should be configured.  The IROC sitting across the table with pen poised above paper asked “and what’s the benefit of that?”  My response was “I’m not going to tell you if there’s a benefit or not.”  Everyone in the meeting stopped and looked at me and I said that we would have no further discussions or meetings to discuss benefits until we actually talked about the “elephant in the room”.  The meeting was over.  Then all of the contractors and the project sponsors had to have a big meeting to talk about what we were trying to achieve and how we should work together and that it was benefits net of costs so we got what we wanted, too. 

Just like the cat, there are times when you have to lash out and make it a bit bloody for people to understand that you don’t like something.  We business users don’t want to do that, but sometimes that’s the only way to make certain people listen.

So the next time you’re going into a meeting with a business user, another department, a vendor, a customer, etc. think about it.  Have you been listening?  Have you shown the others that you understand what they want and are working to make that happen?

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