This week's challenge: write about your Dilbert experiences.
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In the mid 1980s, I was a technical instructor for a major telecommunications manufacturer. As the senior instructor, I taught classes, trained new instructors, wrote lesson plans, was sent out to assist customer installations, and -- occasionally -- worked with the software and hardware engineers when new products were being developed. I had never worked with engineers before and wasn’t quite ready for how many ideas they had and everything they wanted to squeeze into one new product.
My first meeting should have told me what to expect. They were polite enough to ask me what customers had asked for and I enumerated a few things. Then the engineers took over: “We can do that...” “Oh, yes, then we can add this...” “But if we do that, we have to add this...” “Oh, if we add that, it’ll give us a reason to add this...”
I had seen, but never really thought about a sign over one of the doors leading into the engineering department that read:
At some point in the development of every product,
it becomes necessary to shoot the engineers and start production.
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But the engineers weren’t really the dumbest people in the company -- that title goes to the salespeople.
I’d get a call from one of our customers who would ask about how to implement a certain feature.
I’d answer, “The system doesn’t have that feature.”
“But your salesman said it did.”
I’m talking to a customer and don’t want to make the company look bad so I said something such as, “I’m sure he misunderstood what you were asking. I’ll talk to him.”
I’d call the salesman, explain the problem, and he might say, “Well, we can make the system do it, right?”
“No. The system wasn’t designed to do that and none of our sales literature says it can.”
“Well, I had to tell them that to make the sale, so I’ll iron it out with them.”
He was one of our top salespeople so I guess he managed to “iron it out” with the customer. Then, one day...
One of our biggest customers had an installation that had to be perfect. As the senior instructor, I was sent out to make sure things went smoothly.
We were installing a telephone system that was, basically, a computer and it was sensitive to some factors. The customer’s installation team hadn’t checked for a proper ground and I found they had attached to the building’s fire sprinkler system. I don’t know the codes in every state, but we were in California and you can’t use the sprinkler system as your ground. They grumbled, but moved it to a nearby cold-water pipe.
While they were finishing the installation, I tested the ground and found we didn’t have one. I had to crawl up in the attic and follow that pipe for about fifty feet before finding that it connected to a piece of PVC (plastic) pipe. I crawled back to the access panel, yelled at the supervisor, and had him follow me back to the PVC connection. His expletives are not something I’ll include but, within minutes, he had two of his crew crawling all around the attic finding a full metal connection to ground.
As bad as it sounds, that was actually one of the easiest installations I’d seen. The CSR (Customer Service Representative) had written the database perfectly and the installer had programmed it perfectly. Once we flipped the switch, the system was working flawlessly until...
There was a single electrical outlet on the front of the equipment cabinet that was meant for any tool or light you might need during installation or maintenance. As we were finishing up, one of the secretaries walked in with an extension cord. “Is this where I plug in the coffee maker?”
The entire installation crew looked at each other and, one of them finally said, “Huh?”
The girl said, “Well, the clock on the telephone system is supposed to turn on the coffee maker at six each morning. I just need to know where do I plug it in.”
I called the salesman and found that he had, indeed, told the customer that the clock on the system could turn on their coffee maker each morning at whatever time they wanted. After my years in the Marine Corps, I have a very loud voice (when I want to use it) and a vocabulary that most people won’t hear in their lifetimes. I used both of them that day.
The result was that the salesman was fired and I was “cautioned” to be more circumspect in my choice of language when customers were present.