Chapter 13: Boiling the Ocean, a Spoonful at a Time – Catalogs, Services and Portfolios


I was robbed of credit for all the good work I did, and then set up to fail on an impossible task that I had nothing to do with.

There was no way I could put a workable proposal together by the morning, and, even then, get that committee to sign off on it. They had a reputation for saying no to just about everything.

It didn’t seem to have much to do with the merits of the proposals, and probably had more to do with being their way of keeping the workload in IT manageable.

As I headed back to my cube, I wasn’t sure which was worse. But right now it looked like tomorrow would be my last day employed at the company.

As I walked slowly back to my cube, that was the only thought in my mind. That Obasi and Henrik liked the idea made no difference. No one would believe it was my idea now. No one was going to give me credit for all of the hard work I’d put in. All of those endless conversations and interviews didn’t mean anything. And then, when my presentation failed, my defeat would be complete.

Sean and Crayton, the two people I had trusted with my ideas, were going to get credit for the idea of using a role relevant catalog to improve the field experience. And of course, by reflection, Lee would get a substantial share of the credit, too. All I would get would be some minor notes, as the grunt who assembled the parts based on their direction and then couldn’t deliver in the end.

Lee had abandoned me. All he’d needed to do, was to say something to Obasi about how he had chosen me to resolve this, and, despite long odds, I had made it work … that I was the champion of the hour.

Instead, the best I’d gotten were some comments by Henrik about how lucky I was to be able to see how these people worked and learn from them.

I was almost back to my cube when Sean walked up and stopped in front of me.

‘Hey, I wanted to know if you needed any help in getting that presentation ready for tomorrow morning.’

I resisted the urge to hit him, but I wasn’t going to just take it and walk away silently. ‘That’s pretty generous for someone who just stole credit for my work. What do you have in mind; stealing the credit for Review Board approval if that is successful, too’?

‘Those are pretty harsh words from someone whose butt I just pulled out of the fire,’ said Sean.

I just shook my head. ‘I’m not that stupid.’

‘Seriously. When Crayton told me you were meeting one-on-one with Lee to review your proposal for the role relevant view service catalog, I knew you were about to get shafted.’

‘Keep going,’ I said. ‘I want to see how you are going to dig yourself out of this hole.’

‘Because central to your idea, as you explained it to me, is the concept of business-facing services. Well, not only does Lee have no clue as to what a service is, or is not, the members of the PSIRB are equally as ignorant, and consider the whole concept a lot of bureaucratic and academic nonsense, that has no relevance to the way we do business. Something along the lines of, we’ve never needed this distinction in the past, so why should we waste resources on doing something that has no relevance in the real world’?

‘So what,’ I said. ‘You don’t even know the definition of a service.’

‘You think so’? asked Sean. ‘Are you talking about user-facing services, or internal IT-facing services’?

‘User-facing. That’s what we’re concerned about here.’

‘Practical or academic’?

‘Put it in a way the Review Board would understand,’ I said.

‘I’ll do it in a single sentence. A bundle of activities based on IT capabilities, and expressed in user-relevant terms that directly help them achieve their goals. They are defined outside-in.’

‘That’ll do for now, but we’ll need to talk some more.’

‘Don’t be an arrogant jerk,’ said Sean. ‘How do you think I know about how the Review Board views the concept of client-facing services? ’

That was a bit I would need to think about. ‘Okay, but what about Lee? Client-facing services are what Lee keeps harping to me about.’

‘Lee was setting you up to fail in public. He doesn’t really care about services. All he cares about is Lee getting ahead.’

‘And why would he want to do that? He can fire me anytime he wants.’

‘True, but Lee only fires people when it suits his purpose, and then he makes sure it’s done in a public, or at least noticeable, way. Firing you after the field leaders see a weak representation of the business’ needs, makes him seem that much more effective in their eyes. He’s working on improving his image with the only people who matter in his eyes, and you just happen to be convenient. Nothing personal, as he would say.’

‘That’s a pretty weak story. And how did you come to this conclusion – telepathy? You’ve spent less time with Lee than I have, and Ramesh spent more time with me in a week than Lee has in two months.’

Sean folded his arms and smiled. ‘Because I spoke to the people in the field that worked for him before he came here. They’re old friends of mine.’

In the perverse calculus of Lee’s view of the world, it all seemed to make sense. Leaving bodies in your wake, especially if they were home office, non-revenue producing bodies, was a way to demonstrate to the field how much influence you had over the company, and how focused you were on giving the field operations exactly what they needed. It was plausible, but was it true?

‘What about Crayton’? I asked. ‘He was acting like I’d never existed. In fact …,’ I pointed a finger at Sean. ‘He gave you the credit for all the ideas and proposals.’

‘Poor Crayton. All Crayton wants is to hang on for a couple more years, so he can get his pension and his retirement medical. Lee knew that from the start, so whenever he wants more information, he squeezes Crayton with threats of firing. It works. Crayton does whatever Lee wants. How do you think Lee knew to cancel your meeting? You were still going to get stuck with this assignment, he just didn’t want you to meet anyone, or talk to him about it, beforehand. But then you showed up in the break room and he had to improvise.’

‘Sorry, Sean. Your story doesn’t fit. Crayton kept promoting you as the creator of the ideas, not me. And I was right there.’

Sean stood silent for a moment, and then said, ‘That’s true. I was as surprised as anyone. Lee was probably apoplectic inside, but he’s good enough not to show it.’ Sean stared at the ceiling for a moment. ‘I don’t have any answer for you. I guess you’ll have to ask Crayton.’ Sean paused, grinned, and added, ‘Of course you could always ask Lee if his master plan had been thwarted.’

‘Very funny. Besides, Lee won’t talk to me unless he wants something.’

The bigger question was whether or not I could trust Sean. His story was weak and full of holes. But there were parts of it that seemed so right.

‘So,’ said Sean. ‘Do you want some help or not? Cause if you don’t, there is a pint of beer waiting for me on the way home, and it’s looking better and better by the minute. So you better make up your mind.’

Sean and I spent the next six hours pulling together a proposal for an initiative the Review Board could approve and establish as a project ready for prioritization. Much as I hated to admit it, he was good, and we worked well as a team. It was really coming together and was objectively much stronger than I would have been able to prepare myself. He’d even used his personal friendship with the meeting scheduler to get it on the agenda, despite it being past the cut-off date for being considered at tomorrow’s meeting. That was something I could not have achieved. So he seemed to be earnest in his desire to help.

But every hour or so, he’d get a text message and then wander off to make a call. I couldn’t tell if it was suspicious; that he was really in league with Lee, who was checking up on us, or if he just got a lot of calls. The whole experience with Lee, with all the plots and sub-plots, felt like it was poisoning my ability to work with other people in an open and honest way. In his world, you didn’t collaborate, you manipulated, and I didn’t like that at all.

It was late when we finished the proposal. I thought it was pretty good. Sean rated it barely mediocre, but we were both too tired at that point to argue over it.

‘Let’s go through it in the morning,’ I suggested.

‘The pig won’t get any prettier,’ said Sean. ‘But it is probably as good as we can do for now.’

I was too tired to snap back at him and left it at, ‘I’m going home. You can keep working if you want.’

Sean checked the time and said, ‘Nope, that pint is still waiting for me. If I hurry and get there before they close, it won’t go to waste.’

I grabbed some papers and headed toward the door. As I passed him, Sean said, ‘The proposal may be miserable, but it’s not all your fault. You worked hard on it. I’ve got to give you credit for that.’

I just nodded and headed into the parking lot.

I put started my car and headed for the parking lot exit. I dialed Crayton’s number before I made it to the street. I didn’t care how late it was, I needed to check Sean’s story against his.

‘Hello,’ mumbled Crayton, in a sleep-fogged voice.

I was wired on too many energy drinks and it showed.

‘What the deal, Crayton? Why’d you do it’?


‘Today, at the meeting with Lee and Sean and those two suits. Why didn’t you give me credit for all my work? I trust you by asking for your feedback. I deal with you transparently, and you cut me off at the knees. Why did you do it’?

I hadn’t realized how angry I was about what had happened.

‘I don’t understand,’ said Crayton. ‘Aren’t you doing a presentation about that tomorrow’? There was a moment’s hesitation, I mean today.’

I checked my watch. It was almost 1.30 am. No wonder Crayton had been in bed.

‘Look, Chris. I just did what Sean asked me to do. He told me that someone needed to talk about the idea, and that I was the perfect person to do it. You weren’t there, and I guess he didn’t want Lee’s group to look disorganized or something. I don’t know.’

‘You mean he asked you to give him credit for leading the effort’?

‘No, I did that. I thought it made the whole things seem much more organized. I just figured that would make Lee look good; like he had a focused task-force responding to the needs of the field. You know how much he talks about that.’

‘Why would you do that? Why do you care’?

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. If it were true, why hadn’t Sean mentioned it? Someone was lying to me, either intentionally or through ignorance.

‘Chris, you don’t know what it is like. You’ve got a lot of work years left in you. If they fire you tomorrow, you can always get a job someplace else. Me, I’m less than two years from retirement, in an industry where businesses won’t hire people my age. I have to start over. Most likely I’ll be forced into early retirement and live the rest of my life broke.’

Crayton paused for a moment. I thought I could hear some quiet crying on the other end of the phone.

‘I can’t do that to my wife, and my kids, and grandchildren. Please show some compassion. Please don’t be like Lee.’

I wasn’t sure what Crayton was talking about. Did he really believe I had the ability to have him fired? Perhaps he was afraid I was in league with Lee.

I was torn by a weird melange of pity, sympathy and disgust. Crayton was a broken man, and the irony was he still had his job. Unlike Ramesh, who seemed to savor his freedom, the thought terrified Crayton. And Lee didn’t have to do a thing to make him that way.

‘Go back to sleep,’ I said. ‘Don’t worry. You did fine today. We’ll talk tomorrow … make that later today.’ I’d lied, but there was no truth I could tell him that would not make matters worse. As I pulled into the parking lot for my apartment, I wondered if that was what Lee had intended for Ramesh, and was trying to create for me? And what was Sean’s agenda? But most of all, I just kept wanting to know why we didn’t take all this time we wasted on drama, and spend it making the company better. It made no sense.

Tips that would have helped Chris

It’s important to be observant. You can learn much simply by watching how others around you respond to different situations. This lets you benefit from their experience, without having to go through the exact same event. Just be careful that you reach the right conclusions. Your observations are facts, and you may, or may not, have all the facts you need to reach the right conclusion. It is easy to jump to a conclusion that teaches you the wrong lesson from their experience. That is the risk of learning from the actions of others.

Don’t assume there is a conspiracy around every corner, and that every action is a Machiavellian attempt to take advantage of you.

Sometimes leaders appear to be playing favorites. Sometimes it is real. And sometimes it is done to convey a message to others inside, or outside the group. And sometimes it’s just a perception.