Some days, it’s communication.
Any time you get a group of bright, enthusiastic, easily distracted people working together, it can create what we like to think of as a "dynamic workplace" – ideas popping like puffmais, and an electric sense of "get it done" tingeing the air like ozone in a thunderstorm. Every once in a while, however, "dynamic" becomes a Coveyesque synonym for "chaotic," and whatever that smells like, it isn’t quite so pleasant.
A couple of cases in point:
About a fortnight ago, I wrote a blog post about the upcoming Service Pack 1 release for Flight Simulator X. In this post, I took a stab at explaining why we hadn’t said anything formally on our official website, and gathered together some of the blog posts a few of us had made representing what little info we’ve been comfortable hinting at so far. A while after that, some people on the team told me that I should repost this writeup as an article for the FSInsider site.
An article on our website … explaining why there is no article on our website. There was something paradoxically perfect about that, so why not?
So, I took the original post, edited it slightly, and then asked a few people to sanity check it and make sure there was nothing that I’d said as Hal9000 that they weren’t comfortable with me saying as Microsoft. As the PM (Program Manager) "driving" the Service Pack release, not to mention the blogger who has spoken the most publicly about it, I wanted Phil Taylor’s signoff before releasing anything to the web, which I got. So, the article went live on Wednesday afternoon. Once it was out there, I did a quick read of some of the Flight Sim forums. The first hot topic I saw was an announcement of new information about the FSX Service Pack … on Phil’s blog. Clickety-click, and there it was – a whole new post, with greater detail, and a bunch of before-and-after screenshots, the first that anyone has released about the Service Pack, rendering the article that I’d just finished posting on FSInsider largely obsolete.
I didn’t know exactly what he was doing, he didn’t know exactly what I was doing – we both just forged ahead with our shared goal: give our customers whatever information we could as quickly as possible. In the end, no harm was done – I updated the article after the fact to point to his post. Frankly, if I could do only one pointless and irrelevant thing per day, I’d be way ahead of the game.
The second example came the very next day, as it happens.
The morning started very typically – I came in through the side door (so that Lumbergh wouldn’t see me), and sat staring at my desk for an hour, making it look like I was working. Then, I got an interesting email from one of my people, my vast and global network of agents, this one codenamed Branta Canadensis. In this email was a link announcing a webcast about the future of Windows gaming, featuring FSX and DirectX 10, with our own Phil Taylor as a primary speaker. This was definitely the sort of thing we’d want to promote on the FSInsider site. The problem was, I only had about 20 minutes to get it done, before I had to head offsite for a meeting.
I drafted a quick blurb, borrowed the banner from the cohost’s site, and spent a few minutes in Photoshop painting out a glaring grammatical error. I built the page using an HTML template, got it live on our test server, verified it, and adjusted the properties to ensure that it would be called out on the FSInsider home page and that it would expire and delete itself after the event. Next, I exported the package using our content management system, switched to a production server and imported the changes and we were live. After that, I went and posted a notice on several public forums, and sent a good-natured email gently chiding Phil for not having told us about this. All this happened in about 15 minutes.
A bit later on, I learned that there was a fairly strict log-on process required to access the webcast – it wasn’t private, by any means, but the online form that had to be filled out implied that you needed to be a Microsoft partner or developer or have some other credentials beyond just being an interested party. This didn’t seem to daunt too many people, but it would have been a good thing for me to have checked out and at least made note of in advance.
The best part, though, came when Phil replied to my email to tell me that it was my team that had set up the webcast in the first place …
Once again, not every hand knew what every other hand was up to. While it’s certainly safe to say that the odd missteps like these are the exception, not the rule, especially when it comes to actually building software, as it turns out, even soulless corporate drones like us are people, too.
Anyway, as before, no harm was done – we got the word out, and the webcast went very well.
So why in the world would I bother posting this particular bit of lightly-soiled laundry? Two reasons:
A) We’ve set pretty clear goals around being more transparent to the community, and, from what I’ve read, transparency doesn’t mean "only show good things", and 2) I want people to think of events like these the next time someone suggests that we’re pulling the strings in any number of vast and complex conspiracies. We’d all have to spend a lot more time in the same room than we do now, plotting and scheming, in order to pull off anything even half-sinister.
Now I have to plug the USB cable back into my brain for an upgrade before I have to head downstairs – Friday is my day in the money room.