asher63 (asher63) wrote,

Work: How to Tell Your Boss She's Asking the Impossible

I'm working as a contractor in the document-management field. My direct employer is one of the major document services companies (I'll call them DocuCo) and my current assignment is at one of the main Portland utility companies (I'll call them Portland Utilities, or PU). So, my day-to-day supervisor is Darla at PU, and my official boss is Cindy at DocuCo.

Darla is nice and she's not really hard to work for, but she doesn't have a very clear idea of what I do, which means she doesn't have a very clear idea of what I can and can't do. Example: I had to scan a document from about 1970 that contained some very poor-quality maps. As in, barely legible. They'd been printed on a photocopier, or maybe an early-generation fax machine ("telecopier" as they used to be called) that must have had a filthy imaging drum, because not only were the lines of the map barely visible, they were also streaked all over with horizontal lines.

Darla, who'd been QCing my work, looked at the image and shot me an email saying could I please "clean it up a little". (She had already seen the original document.) So I inwardly rolled my eyes ("take a deep breath ... step AWAY from the keyboard ...") and resolved to give it the old college try. And if nothing else, maybe this would be a teachable moment for Darla.

So I took the original document and re-scanned it, and tried various combinations of the limited fixes available to me, first in Kofax Express and then in eCopy PDF Pro (PU is too cheap to get Adobe). Adjust brightness, contrast, gamma, try line art vs. greyscale, etc. I came up with three images that looked as good as I could get them - but none of which looked much better than the original, or the first scan I'd done - and invited Darla over to my workstation to pick which one she liked the best.

Apparently the "teachable moment" concept worked, because she said, "Oh, none of them look very good, huh?" No, I agreed, none of them did. I pointed out that Kofax has a tool that makes a row of dots look more like a line, which is great for those dot-matrix printouts from the 80s, but is of no help to us here because part of the problem is the lines on the image. At any rate, the little light bulb must have gone on for Darla, and she grokked that (a) I really do know what the fuck I'm doing, and (b) there is only so much that can be done for a crappy original.

I concluded by explaining to Darla that "to make this original look better, you would need somebody with advanced image-processing skills, which I don't possess". She nodded agreement, and in the end she made up some stickers saying "Poor Quality Original" that I can use to mark documents like that ugly map.

So now you know what I do for a day job. And even though the pay on this gig is only so-so, I think it's good job experience for me - and I don't mean only on the technical skills. Because knowing how to tell your boss "I'm sorry, Boss, but what you're asking for just can't be done" in a professional and tactful way is a job skill in itself.

Darla had also been telling me the job had to be completed by June, and - looking at the four big filing cabinets and at the slow progress I was making - I was getting the sinking feeling that there was no way in hell I was going to be able to get it done in that timeframe. So I shot an email to Cindy at DocuCo and she came by my workstation at PU on Friday morning (Darla was fortuitously out of the office that day) and we had a very good conversation. Cindy confided that in all her years in the imaging biz, she had never once seen a project finish exactly on the deadline, and she said she would have a talk with Darla about either renegotiating the deadline or bringing in a second person.

The rest of Friday was hard, not because I was stressed about the job but only because I was burnt to a frazzle from not enough sleep. I'd been pushing it too hard this week - a date on Monday, Krav on Tuesday, grocery shopping on Wednesday, cleaning up for Bunny on Thursday night, all while getting to work downtown at 7am. So yeah, I'm pretty beat.
Tags: work

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