Mi Casa es Su Casa, Kinda

I don’t know if you’ll be able to tell, but I’m easing myself back into writing. I got a bit sidetracked for a few months with two worthwhile and important projects. The first was serving as Marcia Conner’s “Developmental Editor” (that’s the title she gave me) in creating a revised, updated second edition of the book she co-authored with Tony Bingham – The New Social Learning.

As a side note here, let me say that working with Marcia is something I did about a year ago and, now as then, she is one of the best people I have ever had the pleasure of sharing work with. She is focused, brilliant, indefatigable (unlike moi), as well as kind, understanding, and generous. There were times when I felt a bit burned out, but it wasn’t because of Marcia and, truth to tell, her energy helped me get cracking when all I felt like was creaking.

At any rate, it was a decent sized project and, unfortunately, it came to fruition at just about the same time I returned to Rocketdyne (now Aerojet Rocketdyne) as a full-time contractor. So I was working all day at Rocketdyne, then spending my evenings (not all of them, but plenty) working with Marcia. I took two Wednesdays off toward the deadline we had set and I worked Saturdays and Sundays (again, not all of them).

I’ve been a wee tad distracted, is what I’m getting at here and, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to fit in writing during this time, with the exception of some fairly extensive posts on Facebook, where I get the most feedback. I thought I would take a moment to share a little bit of info about the City I live in, Simi Valley, CA.

Simi is quite (in)famous for at least two, frequently three, major things. I wasn’t going to point them out, because I’d like to see some of it go away. I decided, however, to name them as they are primarily negative. Even the one thing that many in the City see as a major positive accomplishment, is not without its controversy. Those things are, in no particular order: The Rodney King acquittals, which triggered the 1992 Los Angeles riots; what is inarguably the worst nuclear meltdown in U.S. history; and we are home to the Ronald Reagan Library and Museum.

Lush Happy Face Hill

This is how Happy Face Hill looked in wetter times.

There is another thing, but I’m pretty sure it’s only meaningful to the people who live here in Simi. We call it “Happy Face Hill” and it even has its own Facebook page. Actually, the story surrounding its creation in 1998 and its evolution since then is a strange, wonderful, yet torturous one. You can read more about it here and here. There’s a sentence in the first story that, given the historical drought we find ourselves in, I find ironic – “The restoration ecologist said the happy face will look more natural once it rains.” Part of the story involves the Rotary Club I belong to, The Rotary Club of Simi Sunrise which, now that I think about it, is responsible for another thing Simi is well known for, The Simi Valley Cajun & Blues Festival. Our 26th annual affair, which attracts thousands of Blues and Zydeco fans from around the globe takes place every Memorial Day weekend, which means it’s in two days. I’m volunteering about 16 hours over the weekend.

So this is me, welcoming me back, just like Happy Face Hill welcomes me home when I return from work or visiting family. Now that I’m working, I have quite a few things I’d like to write about. I’ve been somewhat apprehensive about doing so, as I don’t wish to invoke the corporate immune system which, since Rocketdyne was purchase by Aerojet, may have a bit more of a hair trigger than I’ve experienced in the past. I’m working on it. Stay tuned!


Project Management For Fun And Profit

MS Project 2007 Bible

One of the “definitive” books I’ve purchased used through Amazon.

My first encounter with project scheduling software was somewhere around 1990, when I learned Artemis 9000, a mainframe tool from a company called Metier. I wasn’t all that keen for it, as I was already convinced PCs would soon be the computing platform of choice for the average knowledge worker (I think we just called ourselves office workers back then).

Shortly thereafter, a company by the name of Advanced Management Solutions came out with a PC based scheduling tool called Schedule Publisher. It was much friendlier than Artemis and I took to it immediately, eventually becoming the goto guy for using it at Rocketdyne. When the company also started using MS Project, I wasn’t impressed, as it was not as powerful as SP.

I moved on to bigger and better things, but always retained a deep interest in program/project management and, by the time I left in 2010, I reported to the Director of the PMO, where we had been struggling mightily to move the organization to a portfolio approach to PM. I have to say, since returning, I’m disappointed to see there are still larger issues related to access to machines, processes, and the technicians and mechanics who know how to operate or perform them. Nobody seems to be “minding the store”, merely attending to their own department or program.

Now that I’m back, I’ve been presented with the opportunity to become truly proficient in the use of MS Project (I have 2007) and I’ve been experimenting like crazy once I’ve completed the work I have to do to support my program. My former boss and I used to discuss how program/project management was both a science and an art. The use of a tool such as Project comes down squarely on the science side, except when it comes to the hardest part of scheduling; getting honest, accurate status information from the people doing the work. Then the art part is invoked.

Mostly, though, because I’m just a temp contractor, I don’t get to exercise my artistic chops, so I’m concentrating on the science part. This is where MS Project comes in. Granted, it’s only a tool, but it’s a fearfully complex tool; far more capable and complex than most people realize. My experience is a large percentage of users only scratch the surface and use it mostly as a shield (reactively reporting on progress) rather than as a sword (proactively managing the downstream work).

I asked a friend in IT, who is in charge of these things, for a list of people in my building and the one next door who have Project licenses. I then sent an email to about a dozen of the ones I know and asked them if they could help me by answering some questions. So far, only three have responded and they all have demurred, claiming they only use it occasionally and in a very limited way. One of them, however, when prodded further gave me the name of someone he thought might be a “power user”. I have contacted her, as well as another person she suggested, and we have a meeting in a couple of weeks (she’s going on vacation) to discuss how we might help each other.

I have a feeling, at the rate I’m learning, by then I will be able to teach them a thing or two. I have also purchased three used books, one of which has arrived. The other two are, according to Amazon, on their way, presumably by dogsled. I’m already getting views, tables, groups, and filters (as they’re combined) down. I have every intention of moving into customized fields and, a blast from the past, digging into a little VB as well.

This is fun!


So This Is What Retirement’s Like

Finding it more and more interesting to be back working after nearly five years of (sort of) retirement. I’m thinking I’m the poster boy for a new form of the twilight years of one’s career. In my case, I am doing work that I did a couple of decades ago; not using my real strengths – other than my ability to come up-to-speed quickly and move far ahead from where I’m expected to be. The pay ain’t too shabby, either. On the other hand, I’m not exactly doing anything terribly stressful (there is the occasional moment) and it’s giving me the opportunity to become a Microsoft Project expert. I don’t believe there are more than a handful of people here who really know how to use all the functionality Project offers. I don’t think it has much to do with them, either. Between the existence of numerous legacy systems for scheduling and accounting, as well as the mess that three separate, major acquisitions in less than two decades has wrought, expedience and efficiency aren’t exactly hallmarks of how things get done.


Commemorating Humanity’s Brave Explorers and Pioneers

Yesterday was a very special anniversary. It marked the 29th year that has passed since OV-099, the Space Shuttle Orbiter Vehicle Challenger, experienced a catastrophic failure (what NASA calls a Crit 1 failure) during launch, which resulted in the loss of the vehicle and its entire crew. The day was also set aside to commemorate the loss of the Apollo 1 Command Module and its three-man crew during a test on January 27, 1967, and the loss of OV-102, the Space Shuttle Orbiter Vehicle Columbia, which disintegrated during re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere on February 1, 2003, experiencing another Crit 1 failure and the deaths of all aboard.

Challenger women astronauts

Judith Resnik and Christa McCauliffe a couple of days prior to the fateful launch of Challenger.

It was a day to commemorate the loss of these fine people; a day to spend a moment of silence reflecting on the sacrifice they made in their quest to advance the knowledge and, I’d like to think, the purpose of the human race. Truthfully, though I became aware of it on my rocket engine company’s website, I completely forgot about it most of the day and was only reminded when I saw the picture I’m sharing in this post. It’s a picture of the two women who were part of the crew we lost with Challenger’s destruction 29 years ago – Judith Resnik and Christa McCauliffe.

I came across the picture because Ms. Magazine posted it with some information about these two very special women. They pointed out they were the first women to die in space flight. Judith Resnik was also the first Jewish woman to go into space as well as the second American woman astronaut. Christa McCauliffe would have been the first teacher in space. The death of these women means a lot to me and it should mean a lot to you as well. They died in pursuit of greater understanding, of advancing science. They also were in pursuit of education for the youth of not just America, but the entire planet, as well as the noble goal of space exploration and the known and unknown treasures it promises for our species.

These two deaths are especially bittersweet for me, as they were the catalyst that launched what would become my first and, apparently, only actual “career”. Almost one year to the day after Challenger exploded, I began working for the organization that designed and built the Space Shuttle Main Engine and on the document that would represent their portion of the Space Shuttle’s return to flight . . . and service to our space program. I don’t believe I would have found that job were it not for the explosion of that vehicle. I am neither an engineer nor a rocket scientist and, had nothing happened, there would likely have been no need for me.Due to the nature of the document they were preparing to justify a safe return to space flight, they needed people who could work with engineers and rocket scientists and help them input the results of their studies into a document that would satisfy NASA’s requirements of scientific rigidity and organizational accuracy.

Due to the nature of the document they were preparing to justify a safe return to space flight, they needed people who could work with engineers and rocket scientists and help them input the results of their studies into a document that would satisfy NASA’s requirements of scientific rigidity and organizational accuracy. I had the appropriate skills (low bar) and mentality (high bar), along with the need to work wherever the hell I could. :)

At any rate, I ended up working for what was then Rockwell International’s Rocketdyne Division. It subsequently became a part of The Boeing Company, United Technologies’s Pratt & Whitney Division, and is now GenCorp’s Aerojet Rocketdyne. I worked there for 21 of the next 23 years, temporarily leaving in a somewhat ill-fated, but important, return to a family business before returning until my retirement in May of 2010. After nearly five years, I am back working there and am hopeful I can make a difference.

That my good fortune is somewhat a result of the tragedy that cost these two women, and five other astronauts, their lives does not go unnoticed. I hope I honor their memory each day I do my job. I will never forget their sacrifice, nor will I forget the connection their deaths have with my good fortune. I have few heroes in my life. These two are at the top of the list.


Just Flew In. Boy, Are My Arms Tired!

Equipping my new cubsicle

I got a phone and a Dell desktop with Windows 7 and IE . . . while I was there.

I survived my first day back on the job, reasonably intact. I knew I would get a bit of a workout just walking from my car to my desk, but I ended up walking about 3/4 of a mile and climbing around 10 flights of stairs. The first flight I climbed was a mistake. I ended up at the end of a hall where there was a secured door to a clean room. I knew that was the wrong place to be and had to turn around a go back.

I saw close to two dozen former colleagues, the majority of whom I hadn’t seen in nearly five years. Amazing how many of them remarked on how the company would let anyone back in. ;) They know me well.

I am prepared to put up with a boatload of shit coming from what I know is a very old-fashioned aerospace enterprise, but I think it’s going to be even worse than I imagined. Not so much because of the hierarchy, the layers and layers of rules many have forgotten the origin of, or the command-and-control mentality that I know still informs the actions of many of the org’s leaders. There are other, more subtle reasons.

One of the first things I noted was everyone communicating with email; for everything. This wasn’t all that surprising, but it was a bit disconcerting to discover I had a shortcut to Cisco’s Jabber and nobody seemed to know anything about it. I have my work cut out for me. Bottom line, really, is I’m thankful for the opportunity and it couldn’t have come at a better time financially. The fact that it puts me smack dab in the middle of the struggle to be more effective as a team, a community, an organization makes this all the more sweet.

I’m going to try to share what I learn as I learn it. I hope some will find it useful. It’s possible just sharing it will improve its utility to me and, if that’s all I accomplish, I will consider the effort a success.


In Surprise Move, Senate Joins NASCAR

Just came across this photo on Facebook and was moved to edit Marc Antony’s soliloquy for Caesar, which seemed appropriate to me. So, with the mildest of apologies to ol’ Bill, I offer them herein. To wit:

 

Senators in NASCAR-like jackets

 

 

Friends, citizens, countrymen, lend me your ears;

I come to bury our middle class, not to praise it.

The evil that we do lives after us;

The good is oft interred with our bones;

So let it be with our middle class. The noble McConnell

Hath told us we were too ambitious:

If it were so, it was a grievous fault,

And grievously hath we answer’d it.

Here, under leave of McConnell and the rest–

For McConnell is an honourable man;

So are they all, all honourable men–

Come I to speak at our funeral.

We were, almost without fail, just

And faithful to our nation.

But McConnell says we were ambitious;

And McConnell is an honourable man.

We worked hard all our lives and taxes

On our efforts did the general coffers fill:

Did this in us seem ambitious?

We freely gave of our abundance

The others might have what we did:

Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:

Yet McConnell says we’re too ambitious;

And McConnell is an honourable man.

You all did see that in general elections

We thrice voted in supply-siders and tricklers,

Who did thrice trick us: was this ambition?

Yet McConnell says we were ambitious;

And, sure, he is an honourable man.

I speak not to disprove what McConnell speaks,

But here I am to speak what I do know.

You all did love us once, not without cause:

What cause withholds you then, to mourn for us?

O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,

And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;

My heart is in the coffin there with the middle class,

And I must pause till it come back to me.


Kicking Up My Heels At 67

Six RS-25 Rocket Engines

A row of RS-25 engines, formerly SSMEs (Space Shuttle Main Engines).

I had a great two-hour meeting with the man who will be my new manager starting Monday, and to whom I’m deeply grateful for bringing me back to the company I lived at for over two decades. My feeling about returning is probably best summed up by an old friend/colleague who still works there. She commented on a Facebook post where I told my friends I had jumped through the final HR hoop, saying “Welcome home“.

I don’t know how many of you have been lucky enough to work at a place where you can feel that way, but I have. Despite the fact I worked for three of the larger, more (shall we say) staid aerospace companies – as parent organizations; mother ships – in no way diminishes the camaraderie, affection, and deep respect I felt for so many of my colleagues.

Also, I think I had a bit of an epiphany yesterday, a few hours prior to meeting with Geoff. I was thinking about how much hierarchy and command-and-control organization are anathema to me, when I realized that I also work best when I’m involved with a team. I need to be around other people from whom I can learn and share experiences with. It’s my nature. The latter is what gives me the strength to live with the former, and I always have the opportunity to make things better. That’s what I’m ostensibly there to accomplish.

These, then, are the continuing adventures of a 67-year-old man, prematurely retired by circumstances partly beyond his control, who now returns to approximately what he had been doing nearly five years ago. I’m really looking forward to this next part of the journey. I have also discovered I have a great deal of difficulty writing about the things I’m deeply interested in – the business concepts and practices I worked on before retirement and have carefully studied since then – if I’m not involved with them. I just don’t feel I possess the gravitas sitting in my home office that I will have when I’m out there actually working with a group of people to make things happen. I think this move is going to change, if not improve, my blogging and posting habits. Time will tell.


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