When the Universe seems hellbent on kicking you down and you keep getting back up to fight with the help of your team.
I am going to get something out of my chest: this pandemic sucks, lockdown sucks and not even the feeling of living through a major historical event lightens the complete frustration of it all. Looking out the window is particularly downtrodding. It’s summer in one of the European countries with more sunlight hours in the day. The days are magnificent out there, and at any other time, we’d be flocking the streets in our leisure time, enjoying the sun, traveling on weekends, embracing the outdoors with a passion.
Even though restrictions are being slowly lifted, public transportation is still a too much of a risk. And half the team is living in still lockdowned areas, due to recent localized surges. So, we’re still fully remote and dispersed. After all this time… Almost four months later…
We count ourselves among the lucky ones, though. We are a small team, with strong personal bonds among most of us. We all have nice enough houses to work from, we all still have jobs, and the project is still just as exciting as it was at the start of all this. Nobody got sick from the virus on the team, and as far as I know nobody in our immediate families did either. But it still sucks.
In this past few months, we lost our UX/UI provider, we had project setbacks, personal life got in the way for all of us way too many times, and at times it was hard for anyone of us to believe we were going to make our time-to-market goal. There were very good sprints, with measurable progress and serious product development, but there were awful sprints too. Sprints where nothing much seemed to be accomplished, where everybody seemed to be at the end of their patience and at each other’s throats. It got to the point where I seriously worried if we were going to make it. I confess I still do, in some of my darkest lonely hours.
The project is late. There is no way around it. Our time-to-market didn’t change when we came home. In spite of all preparation efforts, we had a slow start. We lost more than a month trying to figure out how to work with our UX/UI provider, only to arrive at the conclusion that our different perspectives were never going to conciliate, and best we part in a civil and final way. We had people dealing with friends dying, with pressing and chronical family issues, with efforts to bring home relatives stuck half a world away, with building maintenance issues, with illness, and a myriad of other things that have made this project one of the most intense emotional roller-coasters for everyone. Kids are home too, and they too had to adapt to remote work. And they needed help. And our spouses are home too, definitely trying to get some work done too. Add to that, life in confinement, cabin fever, internet connection issues, the sudden difficulties of maintaining your daily life, because bureaucracy, mailing things or even shopping for groceries are a nightmare straight out of a Kafka story, and it’s a miracle we even made it this far.
The team is still committed, though. Despite the unreasonable pressure and huge workload, despite of moments when everything seemed to be going sideways and there was no coming back, despite conflict, technical and personal setbacks, and a world of unexpected impediments, we are still at it and willing to call this project a success. Every single one of us. And, albeit slower than we would all like, we are progressing and advancing. Still, there’s a lot at stake on meeting our deadline for a minimum viable product. Our future depends largely on it and there’s no way to slow down the pace or to pause and rest. We signed up for a marathon at a running sprint pace, and it’s starting to show. But we are still in the race.
We are building a new database system from scratch, a system that deals with an unbelievable amount of generated data and turns it into meaningful information. Performance is an issue, component linkage is an issue, keeping track of all that connects and works with almost everything within the system is an issue. Because we are demanding extremely specific tasks of selected tools, tool inadequacy is an issue, sooner or later, for some of them. And, given the complexity of the system we are trying to build, the need for functional and high-level discussion is an issue. We actually love that part, but there’s no time for it. It needs to be done, but it needs to be thoroughly contained, so it doesn’t eat too much time from all the other tasks needing to be done.
We are low on resources and time, so some improvising must be done. UX/UI is still an important factor, so we had to wing it. The “cross-functional” and “everybody can do anything” part of SCRUM, suddenly became very real. So, the Product Owner/CEO/CMO/ almost every other C-something-O you can think of in our small fledging project, along with our Customer Support Manager, tackled the job of UX interviews and customer feedback gathering. The functional analysis was made by him, the Scrum Master/Communications Manager, and the System Architect/Senior Backender/Senior DevOps. The Wireframing was conducted by the now Scrum Master/Communications Manager/Visual Design Sketcher, the final result being put together by our Frontender/UI Designer. Still following?
Are we doing an excellent job in meeting each of these needs? Some of us more than others. But mostly, no. We are doing a good job collectively, considering that some of us are anything but really qualified to be doing it. For me personally, it was extremely daunting and scary to start doing UX and UI analysis and graphic representation. I have worked alongside designers throughout my entire career. I know first-hand the kind of knowledge, talent and experience it takes to make an excellent visual representation of a worded briefing. I remember being in awe of the visual translation of my words, of the aesthetic beauty that resulted, the artistry involved in creating the final images, looks, and so on. How am I qualified to even do a passing job at even one of the intermediate phases? I am not. But I will do the best I can muster.
The entire team is making a nothing short of heroic commitment to this project. Among the mess it is to be working from home, with family life constantly encroaching, with much less of what would be the ideal number of people, time and money resources for this project, with all the adaptation to each other and the workload required, with setbacks, going backwards more than one time, and the impossible, frustrating, draining set of circumstances in which we all have to perform and deliver, I am more than proud of my team. Transparency rises with each sprint, communication flows get better each day, and in spite of contrary appearances, we are picking up the pace. I’m still not sure if we will make it, but I like my odds better with this group of people.