Monday, August 4, 2008

abusing your field manager

In my previous post, "crybaby", I discussed how a field manager, Bob, made me cry in front of what felt like the entire field crew. This may lead the reader to consider Bob an unrepentent asshole, or even an ogre (with apologies to any of my ogre readers). And "asshole" would be one of the top couple of words some of my co-workers would use to describe him, not because he made me cry but because of other incidents.

I had a long and complicated relationship with Bob. We worked together on a 2-year, massive field project located several hours away from our office. Although I'm keeping this anonymous and could leave the reader with a totally negative idea of him, I'd like to describe more of what was going on.

1. Ideally, a field manager would have the support of the project manager back in the office, who would be doing the organizational work to keep the fieldwork going, running interference with higher-ups, etc. In this case, the project manager was SuperVolunteer who apparently spent every waking hour doing Something Important. While he technically did put in full days, he worked bizarre hours like 4am to noon and was often not around when issues arose.

2. This project had a client that changed its mind continually and needed the changes implemented NOW NOW NOW! As any consultant knows, change orders = lots of money, because it means a whole bunch of wasted effort and extra work. If the project manager couldn't be reached, the client representative would bug Bob. And you can't hurry or put off the client, so those phone calls (and the resulting follow-up) took a lot of time.

3. I mentioned that this was a large field job. At various times, we had up to 6 drill rigs, ranging in size from the little geoprobes that could drive along sidewalks, up to air-rotary rigs that took up most of a block. On a job that big, the drilling company manager, Bill*, would stop by on a regular basis, and on occasion stay for the day. I liked Bill a lot - he was charming and he really knew his stuff - but he haggled more than a Turkish rug merchant. Going over the dailies was an epic ordeal and could take a couple hours, especially when we had multiple rigs and various people were filling out the dailies incorrectly.

4. The target field area for investigations was massive and mostly residential. We'd dutifully sent out informational flyers explaining the planned fieldwork and anticipated completion dates (ah ha ha!), with a contact list for further information. None of the field crew was on that list, but everybody knew where we were based. If someone had an issue, they were more likely to walk down the street and knock on our door than to call some PR flack. Any public/media inquiries we got were directed to Bob, since he was the highest-ranking person on site. So Bob spent a significant amount of time trying to explain that he couldn't really talk about results (or anything, really), but they should call the PR flack. That rarely went over well.

5. Long term field crew working around public roads = bonanza for the city, which required police details for each crew working on the streets or sidewalks. Bob kept the PD informed as to where we'd be and for how long.

6. Consultants for "the other side" - it's sad how there always seems to be an other side in the environmental field - occasionally skulked around, intimidating field crews and prompting calls for Bob's intervention. Regulators and auditors dropped by sometimes, also prompting calls.

7. With a large number of people rotating in and out, Bob had to make sure that everybody understood the basic technical and paperwork-type requirements. He made it a point to drop in to make sure there weren't any obvious problems (like making a sketchy lake in the middle of a very public and originally clean area when drilling).

8. Any time you have a big group of people together for a long time, you're going to have emergencies: Someone fell into a frozen lake! Someone else has shooting chest pains! The drill rig broke and it's spraying oil all over the street!

9. Big field crews + long days + nasty weather = high drama. By the end of one exceptionally long stint of work with something like 20 people, we had factions, folks who couldn't work together, and a whole heap of breakdowns and fights. (not physical...barely)

10. Although we had technical people in the office planning the next stage of work, Bob still had to keep abreast of what was planned. At certain points, fieldwork was based on the most recent lab data. Combined with an overly hands-on and fickle client (see #2), he often didn't know where the drill rigs were going until the last possible moment.

Bob spent most of his time tearing from one crisis to another, phone glued to one ear, radio squawking on his hip, trailed by any number of people needing something or other, and growing an ulcer.

*remember, all pseudonyms!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So because he was over worked and constantly annoyed that excuses him taking his frustrations out on you? I think not. Perhaps it explains his actions, but it does not excuse. Part of being an effective manager is swallowing angry words and working towards solving problems. In his case, he just made things worse.