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The Most Terrible Time Of The Year

December 7, 2015

I hate this time of year. I really do. It’s my least favorite. But, not for the reason you think. 

I slept on the couch last night. It was self preservation. Saturday I got a call at 4:30AM. Sunday it was 3:00AM. I figured if I got a call today, I didn’t want it to disturb my lovely wife. They were work calls.

This is the time of year that IT departments are the most unstable. We are very unstable from about mid November to mid December. Then, from mid-December to the end of the year it’s blissfully quiet.

Mid December is when we implement a freeze. It’s also referred to as a “dead” period. 

Information Technology organizations, like many organizations typically work on a calendar year. At the beginning of the year, the business side presents IT with a list of stuff they’d like to have implemented that year. The IT engineers look at the list and come up with smaller list of the things they think they can get done. IT also sends along a budget of how much it will cost to build their list. The Business side grumbles and eventually signs a big check for the year. 

It’s then up to the IT groups to deliver on their commitments. Engineers are eternal optimists. Bill Gates once told a Microsoft company meeting,

The Windows delays are so bad, sometimes I’m tempted to take the code home and finish it over the weekend.

Engineers and programmers really believe they could do that. It’s a good thing, their optimism. It lets them dream big and then deliver on those dreams. However, from a Program Manager point of view, it can lead to some issues when the task is more difficult than they initially considered. 

A project involves three variables; budget, features and schedule. The budget gets set early in the year. The features are promised early in the year. The project gets delivered late in the year. Sometimes really late. Sometimes right at the end. Sometimes maybe-we-don’t-have-time-to-thoroughly-test-it-just-roll-it-out late. Those rollouts typically happen in the middle of the night. When stuff doesn’t get tested properly, it breaks. When stuff breaks, they call me. When stuff breaks in the middle of the night, they call me in the middle of the night. 

Starting about mid-November, IT teams start staring down the end of the calendar. Like an electonic game of chicken they see the end of the yaer headed toward them at breakneck speed. The calendar is not going to swerve first. At some point they pull the trigger and decide “good” becomes “good enough.” Often it works. Developers are very smart guys. They can build amazing things. . .eventually.

So, for the next couple of weeks, I’ll sleep with my phone on the couch instead of with my wife in my bed. Eventually the project rollouts will taper off and life will mostly return to normal. 

You might be wondering why we stop in mid-December. Why don’t we continue to code all the way up until the stoke of midnight on New Year’s Eve? It’s because the engineers’ optimism is tempered by the Program managers’ realism. There are a couple of important events in the last half of December and we want to spend Christmas Eve frantically trying to put together the new bicycle, not the new call flow software. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2015 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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