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The Day Job – Put a mouse in the maze


Let’s say, for the sake of my catchy title, that we have four puzzle makers. Each one of them is working on a separate part of a puzzle. Again, thanks to the title, we’ll say it’s a maze. Now, since each of these people are very good at what they do, they each create a very reasonable, moderately complex maze. Nothing too fancy, but each one is unique, and each person congratulates himself on making a good product to send to you, a person who appreciates mazes.

Sooner or later, all four pieces of this maze arrives at your doorstep, and you follow the equally reasonable directions to put it all together. Each piece looks impressive on it’s own, but when you get it all together, something just looks off- busier than you expected perhaps. Still, trusting the puzzle makers and their years of experience, you set to do your little experiment. You put a mouse in the maze.

And what happens when it’s all put together? Your cute mouse exhausts itself, never finding the way out or whatever treat you put in the center. After a while, you scratch your head, wondering how four completely reasonable pieces of the maze became something almost impossible to navigate?

A very simple example, I think. Not Who Moved My Cheese simple, but as simple as I can probably make it.

Okay, let’s take this a little further.

Somewhere on high, in the super office in the sky, there are some big thinkers all creating their own mazes of sorts. We’ll call them administrative requirements. One is creating a manning document, one a training plan, another a fiscal solution, and the last a list of equipment and maintenance. Just like the earlier example, each one of these requirements is moderately or less complex, well written, and based on years of experience. To make it all easy to understand, there are instructions to follow and spreadsheets to fill out. As usual, people congratulate themselves and each other, and they send these my way.

So, I open the books, create a plan to put checks in various blocks, and I look for a way to maintain this new program. In no time at all, I start feeling like that mouse.

Each program as it stands alone is, for the most part, reasonable, but when I start piecing them together with the people, time, and resources at my disposal, things get dicey. In time, the resources, or worse, people, become exhausted. This is bad in just about every way, which I’m sure was not the intent when experienced people were all shooting for something reasonable and attainable.

A little closer to home, let’s look at the schedule. When we look at each item, it makes sense. It has hour blocks in nice even rows, and one event is followed by another. Sometimes items overlap, but there’s still a rhyme and reason to it all. From day to day and week to week, the events follow a logical progression on the page.


Now, let’s put a junior person in that maze of a schedule.

Since we have a very specific number of people, I can tell you that one person might need to be present at three items for tomorrow, also have a job to do, and still need to eat, sleep, and hopefully relax or mentally switch gears between events. When all of us senior people sit in front of a big screen and run through the schedule, we all nod our heads at the very reasonable attempt to fit a lot of requirements into the time we have. The younger employee who has to actually do the work doesn’t see it the same way. When he puts it all together, from one event to the next, mandatory training, maintenance, special evolutions and his technical job, we’ve put that person in a position where he needs to choose between food or sleep, because there’s no room in the schedule for both as he rushes from one event to the next, especially when one meeting goes long.

And, because this person on the business end of our schedule is competent, he’ll just put his head down and try to accomplish it all. Most people do. Sooner or later, though, some resource will get exhausted and something will fall apart. I think we’ve all seen it happen regardless of the profession.

Please don’t think that I’m accusing anyone of willfully creating this situation. I’m just saying that we sometimes need to attach a name and face to the schedule, choosing some fairly competent person, and map out that person’s real day, not the color-coded events on the calendar.

I can tell you from personal experience that being a mouse in that maze is sometimes no fun as I rush from one end of the ship to the other.

Have a great week out there.

– JT


My good thing: Taco Tuesday. I know, it’s been my good thing before. You’d think I’d get tired of Taco Tuesday after so many years, but it really never gets old.

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