Browsing articles tagged with " Cat"

Scarborough Merry Maids…Are Terrible at Making Mistakes. Are You, Too?

Sep 2, 2011   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Professional Development  //  2 Comments

This post is a summer repeat of our May, 2009 original post.

I once made such a stupid mistake for a client that it almost cost the client well into the million dollars range.  It was early in my career and I was working for a consulting firm that had a client in litigation.  Their was a large volume of test data that needed to be entered into a database, then about 3,000 graphs needed to be plotted.  It took a long time, but only because there was a great deal of data entry to be done.  Easy as cake!

Except that I didn’t really check my work that carefully, and the graphs all ended up having a duplicate data point at the end.  Every single one of them had an extra data point.  Even those of you without an inner Matlock can see that these graphs weren’t going to work in court.  But I didn’t find the mistake, my boss did.  And he couldn’t find me (this was before cellphones), so he had to track down another programmer from another company to reproduce the graphs based on the data.

So I ponied up the money to pay for the impromptu programmer, swallowed my pride (not that there was any left), apologized, and wrote up a test plan procedure that included external reviews of test data long before the next court date.  When I ran into my former boss years later, I mentioned that I was still embarrassed by that mistake.  Either he was being very kind to me or he was the forgiving type, because he said he didn’t remember it at all.

I’m walking down memory lane because a cleaning service owner is going to show up at our home tonight.  My having to go through the time it takes to tell someone what we require, then training their staff on what we want is just a pain.  But we have to do it because we fired Merry Maids.

I just can’t help thinking how this must be how managers feel when they have to fire an employee that isn’t working out.  He knows he has to do it, but it takes longer to fire someone and hire a new person that it does to keep picking up the slack of the…slacker.  So on and on it goes, with the manager getting more and more frustrated trying to mentor the worker into doing the right thing and the slacker getting worse and worse at his job because he’s being asked to do something he isn’t capable of doing.  I’m betting that for most managers of a poorly performing workers, a person who is bad at making mistakes is the one that will get fired first.

So while I am looking forward to having a cleaning service again, I’m dreading the whole process of finding one that fits, then managing the staff while they are here.  It’s hard for me to clean, though, when I’m on the road so much, so hiring in it is.

Our last cleaners, Merry Maids of Scarborough, started out nice enough, but it went down hill from there, fast.  We gave both the owner of the franchise and her staff written instructions.  Included in the instructions were large print, bolded warnings about how our flooring would be damaged by contact with any water.  (Previous owners installed the maintenance nightmare, not us). So the first team we had kept water away from the sensitive item.  However, just like an outsourced development team, turnover on the cleaning team was high.  Not long into our contract, staff started changing on a weekly basis, so I had to jump in to do training…then I had to keep an eye on the team because I found that they were leaving water all over the floor.  I had a short meeting “No water, at all on this.  Do not put any water on this.  If you accidentally put water on it, dry it up immediately.  Carry a towel so that you can.”  Nods of agreement, and on with the work.

But the next week the team was new again, and I had to repeat my dire warnings. And yet a newer team the following week.  I felt as if I was stuck in a wash, rinse, repeat cycle.  I called the owner to tell her that she was letting her staff damage our items.  I had noticed that in addition to the water issue, their use of a specialized device was leaving large chunks of paint and drywall out of our walls.  Large, one inch dents and chunks in our walls.    All at exactly the height of this device, which just happened to have square corners, right at the same level of the chunks missing from our walls.

In addition, I found that the cleaning agent used on our furniture was removing the finish on our furniture and then being transferred to all of our mirrors as new, under-trained staff was mixing rag use on all kinds of surfaces.

So I’d had enough and called the owner of Scarborough Merry Maids.  Her husband took the call and I shared my frustrations.  He was very understanding and knew exactly what caused the perfect triangle shaped holes in our walls, what cleaning agent the staff were using incorrectly, and what was causing furniture finish to end up on our mirrors and windows.  He arranged to come visit to take photos for his insurance company…and I was happy.

Well, I thought I was happy.  Mr. Merry Maid did not come out — he sent one of the same cleaning staff people who had damaged the home.  After the staff person looked at the perfectly shaped triangles spotting our walls, the perfectly concentric circles of water damage from a wet bucket left for hours where it shouldn’t have been, splashes of water left too long on our flooring, and the hardened swirls of cleaning agent and furniture finishing on our expensive mirrors, she declared that all was damage from… our cat.


If our cat could may perfectly circular, concentric circles in a wooden finish, I’d be putting her on show.  If she could punch perfectly triangular holes in our walls, I’d rent her out for art shows.  If she could some how work with furniture finish, I’d work her day and night refinishing our floors.

Yes, it turns out that the teams of untrained staff at Merry Maids Scarborough were incapable of doing any of this damage, but some how, our cat was.

So we fired Merry Maids.  Not because they damaged our walls, our furniture, our mirrors, our floors, but because they didn’t know how to deal with their making a mistake — they weren’t good at making mistakes.

Sure, we all make them…me, I’ve made some real doozies.  Some of them were even pretty darn stupid mistakes.  Some where unforgivable.  Some make for a good story and not much else.

When my team members make a mistake, I want them to do it well.  I want them to:

  • Find out that they made a mistake long before I do
  • Figure out how to fix it
  • Fix it, even if it means staying late, missing dinner, or missing a movie
  • Make a checklist, tool, or process that will keep them from making the same or similar mistakes in the future.
  • Ask others how to keep from making the same mistake again
  • Say they are sorry they made a mistake (not “I’m sorry you are mad” or “I’m sorry that guy told you about my mistake” or “Your cat did it, not me”.)

How could I trust a company like Scarborough Merry Maids to send staff to my home if they had no clue what caused the damage and had no interest in fixing it, and then wanted to blame it on the cat?  And just how stupid did they think I was when they said my cat had all these wonderful talents?  How could they let their staff tell me that “I don’t have to follow any thing you put in writing”.?  How could they send the person who caused the damage to assess whether they did the damage?  Trust them? They don’t know for trust.

And not only did I not trust them any longer, now perhaps you don’t, either. I’ve worked with lots of bad service firms over the years, and the only ones I can remember the names of where people who didn’t know how to fully fix their mistakes.  Maybe you’ll remember that Merry Maids of Scarborough thinks our cat is a wizard of some sort, but probably you’ll remember that they didn’t want to fix their mistakes.

If you’ve made a mistake, the first things you must do it admit it, fix it, keep it from happening again, and say you are sorry.  If you do that, nearly everyone you work with will either forget that the mistake happened at all or who did it.  And some time a few years in the future, you’ll be sitting around in a pub, telling others about this great story and how well it ended.

Trust me.

Cats Give Warnings Before It Gets Bloody

Feb 23, 2011   //   by Rob Drysdale   //   Blog, Data, Fun, Professional Development  //  3 Comments


What do you think of this picture of Annie?  Doesn’t she look cute?  She’s such a tiny cat and looks so innocent that you think you can pick her up and pet her and she’ll be all sweet and nice.  She can be nice and sweet, but she can also be nasty and bite and scratch.  The funny thing is, she turns from nice to nasty really fast.  You can be petting her and thinking everything’s fine, but all of a sudden she’ll turn and hiss and lash out to scratch.  For those that don’t know her and just try and pet her they are surprised when she turns and they aren’t expecting it.  For those of us that know her and have experienced it, we know what the signs are and can see her starting to turn.  It’s in her eyes and the way she holds her head, but if you haven’t seen it before you may not recognize it.

Last week I wrote a blog post called What It Feels Like To Be The Cat and I talked about a specific example of feeling like a cat when you’re in meetings.  In my example, the project team was surprised when I finally did “lash out” in a meeting, but they shouldn’t have been.  Just like Annie does, we all show signs when we are not happy, not engaged, ready to run, or ready to lash out.  We just have to look for the signs.  In Karen’s recent post Herding Cats The Hard Way, she talks about situations where you can be causing your users or project team to act like a cat and want to lash out, but sometimes it happens no matter what you do.  But I think that if we see the signs, we can change our actions and it can keep things from getting too bloody.

I’ll give an example of how this can happen.  Let’s say you’re invited to a normal status meeting where everything seems to have been going fine and it’s a clear agenda of things to discuss.  Now suppose that someone has found some problem that wasn’t on the agenda and it relates to your (or your team’s) work and they bring it up.  Your first reaction internally is an adrenalin rush and you get defensive.  Most of us won’t “lash out” in that meeting as a first response, but if it keeps getting discussed and we’re pushed into a corner it could happen.  But if the others in the meeting are paying attention they can see it coming and defuse the situation.  Think about it, has this ever happened to you? What was your reaction? Did you feel like the cat and want to lash out or run away and hide?

You’re actions and what you do and say are important in your interaction with people.  You can’t deliver the same message the same way with everyone and you have to watch and pay attention to the other person so you can see when their attitude is changing.    If you don’t pay attention, you could be surprised and a bit bloody.

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?

Herding Cats the Hard Way

Feb 17, 2011   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Data, Professional Development  //  3 Comments

CostofHerdingcats - photo hands with BandAids

About one hour before a webinar this week we had to get one of our cats to the vet.  This is a nervous cat but we generally can use food and kind words to lure him close enough to put him in a cat crate.

This time he was sick, so he wasn’t feeling well and he was afraid.  That made the whole process take much longer than it usually does, which led to the cat fighting back more than normal. Also adding to the stress was the fact that we had to get him crated and to the doctor at a specific time or lose our appointment. Having a webinar coming up within an hour or so made me more stressed, too.

First Rob tried to get him in the crate with smooth talking as a bit of distraction.  The cat was having none of that. So next he tried it wearing gauntlet-type leather work gloves.  The gloves didn’t even make a difference, Frankie’s claws went right through them.  Next Rob tried padded leather work gloves.  Same effect.  After several horrible attempts , Rob succeeded in getting Frank in the crate.  We had the cat locked in a bathroom with two people and all three of us were miserable.  Both Rob and Frank suffered injuries in the process.

I couldn’t help think of similar situations over my career of being locked in a conference room with project team members and business users with none of us wanting to be there.  We all suffered scratches, bites, and war wounds.

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. 

Every time we have to get a cat to the doctor we have to tailor the process to the individual cat. For one, we could put the crate on the kitchen floor and he’d walk in because he loved being in the crate. For others it involves some kitty bribes and distractions. They don’t like being in the crate, but they aren’t hard to distract. For others, it takes two people, several strategies and a series of missed appointments until we are able to succeed. Those latter ones are the worst – we feel bad, the cat is unhappy and generally everyone gets hurt.

But there are benefits to going through this cat fight.  What Frank taught us about meetings with business users and project teams:

  1. Sometimes you have to go to meetings that no one wants to attend, but you do it because it must be done to keep the project from failing. 
  2. Springing bad news on a business user with no preparation and no supporting evidence is treating them like cats.  It puts them in a much more stressful position and makes them want to fight back.
  3. If all your encounters with others are like crating a sick cat, you aren’t doing it right.
  4. If team members are in a high stress situation, meetings are going to be much more painful than you expect.
  5. Sometimes you have to take the scratches in order to get the job done.
  6. If every encounter you have with business users results in going through a box of bandages, you aren’t caring for your business users enough outside of meetings to mitigate their fears and stresses.
  7. You need the right protective equipment for each meeting.  Sometimes that’s just kind words and some food.  Sometimes it’s a full blown Kevlar protection system.
  8. If you wear the Kevlar to every meeting, though, you are sending the message to the team that someone is going to be hurt.
  9. You need to tailor meeting locations, agenda items and communications styles to the individual business users. 
  10. Everyone in these meetings feels as if they are the cat. 

Karen’s Typical Day

Feb 17, 2011   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Data Modeling, Database, Social Networking, Speaking, Travel, WIT  //  1 Comment

I used this slide in my recent Webinar sponsored by Embarcadero Technologies.  It’s a collage of photos to represent how it seems I spend my time.



I’d love to see your typical day as you would represent it.  It doesn’t have to be a collage or even have photos.  Just blog your typical day in something other than paragraphs and link to the photo above or leave a link in the comments if you don’t see a track back in the comments automatically.  Include the hashtag #typicalday in the title.

Don’t blog?  This would be a great way to get started. 

I’ll write up a summary blog post of all the submissions, along with my usual witty observations.

Go! Show us what your days are like (or at least what they feel like).

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