Papa Preparada

I love sandwiches. Not in the passing way that someone says, “Oh, I love sammies. Yummy!”, and then orders the strawberry salad and mint tea. Sammies? Fuck you people. You know nothing. I really LOVE sandwiches. My adoration of a finely crafted sandwich can only be trumped by:

  • Unbridled love for my family
  • Gooey, warm brownies
  •  The sound and smell of the world in the 5 to 10 minutes before the sun peaks above the horizon on a summer morning.
To date, my most beloved sandwiches have been:
  • The croque provençal that I ate in a small, seemingly unnamed cafe in Paris
  • The pastrami reuben from a long-forgotten restaurant in Red Lodge, MT (Technically, it was not my sandwich. I stole most of it off of my friend’s plate, while trying to convince her that she would really prefer my BBQ pork sandwich — an argument that might have worked a little better if she hadn’t been Jewish.)
  • The Al Pastor torta from Los Dos Amigos in Thousand Oaks, CA.

As of this month, I have a new contender for the list — the Papa Preparada from Porto’s Bakery in Burbank, CA.

The papa preparada brings my passion for sandwiches and my great fondness for potatoes together at last. The geniuses at Porto’s create beautiful potato balls (like croquettes but better), with crusty, crunchy outsides and silky, creamy interiors. Then, they take there miraculous little creations, smash them to bits, and put them inside a Cuban sandwich. They meld perfectly with the beans and the cheese, but the potato ball’s outside maintains a crunchy textural component so key to a great sandwich. The bread, native to all Cuban sandwiches, is fantastic and baked daily by the Porto’s staff.

Now, to gain a permanent spot on my greatest sandwiches list, a sandwich must either have been consumed during one of the greatest days of my life (as with the first two sandwiches on the list) or withstand the test of time. Since my visit to Porto’s was sandwiched (lame pun totally intended) between an airport pick-up and an afternoon spent doing laundry, Porto’s must be tested a few more times before it goes on the list permanently. However, it’s been over 5 years since I’ve had even an contender. This is exciting times folks. Exciting times!

Target Markets

I know that companies are continually struggling to acquire new market share, but I just don’t think that the Perdue Chicken marketing team is going to get any wins with with this ad…

Marketing Failure

Vegan shmegan. Try some of our over processed chicken bits!

After all of these years building automated ad software, it does make me wonder why the Weight Watchers system displays meat ads on pages specially targeted to vegetarian and vegans. How have their advertisers and subscribers not complained?

Ouch. I Pulled My Writing Muscle

If writing is a muscle that atrophies, consider me the 500 pound fat dude who’s trying to run a marathon.

Toothache? Go to the ER!

Over the years, I’ve noticed a trend in the suggestions that the on-call advice nurses provide. Every advice nurse that I’ve ever spoken with has ultimately told me to go the ER. You could call and say you felt great, and the nurse would still tell you to go to the ER. I’m not joking. I have proof.

As new parents, my husband and I are occasionally unsure about whether or not the baby has a problem. Should we be worried that she vomited? Are those streaks of blood normal? Why is she suddenly squeaking? Most recently, we wondered if we should give her some Tylenol to ease her teething pain at night, and if so, how much. Thinking that it was an easy win for the advice nurse, I called. The conversation was ludicrous. I’ve transcribed it, to the best of my memory, below:

Nurse: Hello. My name is Amy. Are you in psychological or physical distress?

Me: No. I just need to confirm the proper Tylenol dosage for a baby weighing 15 and a half pounds.

Nurse: If you are in distress, please call 911 immediately or go to the nearest ER. Do you need directions to the nearest ER or to be connected to 911.

Me (slightly puzzled): No. I just need a dosage confirmation for my baby’s medicine.

Nurse: Ok. I am legally obligated to ask you a series of questions before giving advice. Is that ok?

Me: Sure.

Nurse: Great. How old are you?

Me: Well, the question is about my daughter. She’s 7 months old.

Nurse: Ok. How much does your son weigh?

Me: It’s my DAUGHTER. She weighs 15 and a half pounds (at this point, I am getting a bit annoyed, having stated all of this information in the beginning.)

Nurse: Does your daughter have a fever?

Me: No.

Nurse: Does you daughter have a runny nose?

Me: No. She’s teething.

Nurse: Is she having a seizure?

Me: (wearily) No. She’s teething.

Nurse: How do you know that it’s teething?

Me: She has two big bumps on her upper gums and she keeps putting her hand in her mouth to rub them while she cries. She’s drooling. And… you know… she’s 7 months old.

Nurse: Can she stand on her own?

Me (slightly baffled): No….

Nurse: If she cannot stand on her own, I advise you to take her to the closest ER immediately.

Me (now completely annoyed): She’s 7 months old. Why would she be able to stand on her own? She can barely crawl!

Nurse: I’m sorry ma’am, but if the patient cannot stand, I am legally obligated to tell you to take her to the ER.

Me: Well, before I do that, can you tell me the proper dosage of Tylenol for a 7-month-old baby?

Nurse: No ma’am. I am not allowed to give dosage or treatment advice.

Me: So….what is it that you do exactly?

Nurse: I provide a screening service to determine whether or not you should seek additional medical help.

Me: And you think that I should seek additional medical help for a teething baby.

Nurse: I am obligated to tell you to do so. Yes.

 

At this point, I hung up.

While this experience was a particularly egregious case, I see this type of pretend service a lot. Companies advertise online or call-in features, but when you try to use them, they either do not really exist or are bad that it is the antithesis of service.

Why?

It doesn’t drive customer acquisition or retention, because it becomes very obvious very quickly that the “service” in question is useless. No one is going to think, “Oh, I’d like to change health insurance plans, but mine has that useless nurse that I can call and chat with at 3 am. I’d better just stay with what I’ve got.”

It doesn’t provide cost savings. Hiring thousands of registered nurses that instruct people in mild discomfort to clog an ER is a waste of money on many different fronts.

All I can some up with is that we’re playing a lemmings game (yes, I know that lemmings don’t really run off cliffs together and that Disney producers back in the day were supposedly really good at herding…) I think that companies see a competitor advertising services like advice nurses and online chat and they rush to implement without thinking. The result? A bunch of very costly, horrible, half-assed services that drain money and drive away customers.

I beg you wide world of business — before you implement something because a competitor offers it, think it through. Whether it be a newsletter (always unbelievably boring and useless) or an advice nurse who cannot legally give advice, save your money and spare your customers the annoyance.

How To Lose Applicants and Alienate Potential Employees

In May, I decided to leave the glamour and glory of 60% travel and 100 hour work weeks in favor of staying close to home with our new, cuddly baby. The baby is wonderful, but she really doesn’t pay well. So, for the first time in over 5 years, I began the hunt for a “real” job. I’ve been through a series of laborious online application programs, and I am shocked and horrified by the shear crappiness of this software market.

In the past two months, I’ve encountered:

1.  Ridiculously out of date systems. My favorite said, ”Netscape, AOL and other non-standard browsers can sometimes result in problems completing the form.”

2.  Innumerable fields with no formatting requirements noted, which choke the system at submission because the data is not in the expected format. If you want the date in yyyy/mm/dd format, set the field appropriately!

3.  Forms that clear all data when a single field error is encountered. There’s nothing more fun than spending 15 minutes filling out a form to have it wiped because you didn’t know that the salary requirement field shouldn’t include comas (and the programmer was too lazy to write code to strip the comas.)

4.  Systems that require the applicant to retype a resume in a text field, rather than allowing attachments or imports.

These are not occasional occurrences. I run into at least two of these issues every day.

These companies are supposedly “high tech” businesses looking for the creme-de-la-creme of tech employees. Well folks, you’re not going to get anyone decent running subpar job submission software. Think about it — this is the first impression that you give a potential employee, and if it’s sucky, you will most likely get sucky applicants. “So what?” you say, “We really only hire through referral and networking anyway.” Right…  Think about this — to be considered, the networked / referred employee must get into the HR system through your crappy job application software. Before the interview, before you show them the cool cafeteria, before you talk about your free, onsite gym, the applicant sees your pathetic, shoddy system, which says 1999 AOL is your idea of “standard”. Any programmer, DBA, project manager, or designer worth their salt will immediately want to run. Even if you can woo the applicant back with other cool perks or a lot of money (doubtful if the person is any good), the red flag is up. It’s going to cost you a lot more time, effort, and money to convert that kick-ass applicant into an actual employee.

I strongly encourage hiring managers who care about the quality of their future employee to take a couple of minutes and walk through the application process themselves. Is it giving the impression that you want? Will it attract the type of employee that you want?

Take A Note

On occasion, I encounter a project manager in the wild who has forgotten (or perhaps never really knew) what it means to manage a project, let alone what it means to run one. These people labor under the delusion that project managers take notes and regurgitate information.

I was searching through my old emails this morning and found the following gem. This is actual text from an actual email sent by an actual “project manager”.

I wanted to ensure that you are all being diligent about taking notes, completing and sending minutes after discussions with me.  In each of those discussions whether it be on the phone, in a hallway or in a scheduled meeting, you are responsible for putting out the minutes.  This is the only way I can be sure of your understanding of my direction and assignments. 

Even if I am holding a team meeting.  Each of you is responsible for individually completing minutes and sending to me.  I will then compare your minutes to my notes.  This is one of the main purposes of minutes and will ensure we do not miscommunication or misunderstand each other.  I will expect these minutes to go out within 24 hrs. just like project minutes, but I will be the only one copied.  Please direct all questions to me. Lastly, I believe some of you owe me minutes from discussions today!

I think that Seth Godin summed up my feelings about project management in this post: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2010/07/the-difference-between-running-and-managing-a-project.html.

Project managers should RUN projects. Software can take and distribute notes. It’s the project manager’s job to make tough decisions, to fix problems, to inspire, and to make sure that the final outcome makes the recipients happy and makes the team members proud of what they’ve accomplished. To accomplish all of these things, a project manager must be able to communicate well — well enough that he does not need to double or triple check comprehension from every member of the team in relation to every conversation.

Every time a project manager takes a note, writes a schedule, or creates a document, it should be as a helpful tool to RUN the project. Creating artifacts because you don’t trust your team or because PMBOK says that you should is just wasted, useless overhead.

On Sandwiches and Project Management

Sandwich

A tasty, well-timed sandwich can foster a lifetime of devotion.

Five years into my career as a technical project manager, the team’s DBA, a notoriously grumpy fellow, said to me, “You are my favorite project manager. I love working on your projects.” My head immediately began to swell, and wanting to hear more about how great I was, I asked, “What is it that you like about my projects?” I expected to hear about my glorious project management skills, my ability to grasp technical ideas quickly, my communication prowess,  my nifty color coding on schedules, or my lovely slightly lemon smell, which was a fresh relief after his sweat drenched cube neighbor.

He thought for a moment and then said, “You remember to get my lunch sandwiches without tomatoes.” Then, he walked away.

It was humbling, it was important, and it was extremely educational. It taught me two very, very important rules of being a project manager:

 

1.  Like a great piece of software, a project manager should make things work so well that no one even thinks about it. When you do you job well, the team spends their time discussing sandwiches, gaming, cool new gadget, cricket matches, ice fishing, bands, or whatever else the team culture has embraced. Suck at your job and the team will be constantly discussing scheduling ideas, how much they hate the users, and how under appreciated they feel because they only got sandwiches for lunch and at the other company that their friend’s, cousin’s, wife works at they get gourmet lunches delivered everyday! As a project manager, make sure that everything is taken care of, from schedule communication to issue tracking to lunch. You can delegate, of course, but you’re still responsible for making sure that everything is done and is done right.

2.  If you really want someone to accept your leadership and to help deliver a great project, which is the most important thing as a project manager, take time to know the person. Then, use your knowledge for good. Order sandwiches without tomatoes, if that’s what he wants. Never schedule deliverables on a team member’s birthday. Don’t let the workaholic work more than 45 hours a week, and try to wean her down to 40 hours. Always send the sickies home and, if they need it, have soup delivered to their houses. Make sure the vegans have something better to eat than a tray full of wilted celery sticks.