Project Blues

I’m in Accounting this term. The class is split into two halves. The first half is financial accounting (e.g., income statements, balance sheets), and it was such great information that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t been taught it in grade school. It was evaluated by a midterm (on which I got a 94%, grade just posted). The second half, which began the week before our winter break and ends at the end of January, is managerial accounting (e.g., budgets, projecting costs). It will be evaluated by a group project consisting of a ~20 page paper and a ~20 minute powerpoint presentation. The topic is to be some kind of business problem that we use accounting principles to solve or demonstrate. The instructor gave copious example topics and even let us look at and borrow some successful papers done in other classes.

I got lucky with my last group, despite us having one “bad seed”, and I didn’t realize how lucky I’d gotten until I started working with this group. For starters, one of my groupmates from last term kind of coerced me into this group. It was not the one I’d have chosen on my own, but it was convenient, and at the time, it seemed promising. The group has two guys in it, P & G, who are taking this class in their third year, because they missed it during their first year (for various reasons that are not failing out or something like that). It also has another guy, S, who works at my company, was in my last class, and is generally easygoing and cool…and then J, who is a gal who was in my group last term.

My problem surrounds P. I don’t know if I’m misreading him or not, but he comes off as something between a tool and a jackass. (Jacktool?) First, during our very first group get-together, in the five minutes at the end of class, he kept insisting that we needed to do an outline of the project. When I said that I wasn’t sure what we could outline given that we had no topic and no idea what we were doing (keep in mind, we were halfway through financial accounting and hadn’t touched managerial), he got pissy and said that it was the best way to start a project. I said that I appreciated that, and that I know he has lots of experience and that I’d like to see an example of what he means by an outline so that I know what he’s talking about before I devote time to it. I swear, I was more polite than I’d ever be at work…probably more polite than I’d be in life. Well, he kept on it…and no matter how many times I kept politely saying that I didn’t know what he meant or wanted us to do and would like to see even a brief example, he wouldn’t give an example and wouldn’t budge. So, I told him he could bring one that he did for the next week, and I’d be happy to look at it and contribute my own at that time. I also suggested that we bring project topic ideas for the next week, since we had examples of project ideas and it seemed like the one thing we could do easily without knowing the managerial accounting topics.

For reference, here are some of the examples given as past project topics:
• Business plan for establishing a healthy food retail restaurant at Woodfield Mall
• Analysis of upgrading shipping IT systems for major retailer
• Analysis of starting up a Paddle Tennis Program in Lake Bluff
• Utilization job costing to determine job profitability at a graphics company
• Analysis of segment profitability within a small needleworks store

So, next week…no mention of an outline…and neither P nor G (and S is out sick) have brought in ideas for projects. J is flummoxed by the whole class at this point, and she has no idea what to do. I come in with one idea I saw in the stack of papers, which was very different from the sample ideas, namely analysis of the 10K of an existing company to determine viability for the purpose of inclusion in an investment portfolio, and one separate idea that I came up with that was closer to what was given, shifting an office to a paperless workspace. (The latter idea was, by the way, my final project for my last class, albeit at a different angle, so I already had a ton of data for it.) P criticizes and rejects both my ideas. So, I (again…far more politely than I would normally be…) ask P and G for their ideas…nada, zip, zilch. Finally, J pipes up that it might be fun to do something with Starbucks’ recent store closures, perhaps analyse where they went wrong and what led to store closures. This sounded daunting to me, but P&G latched onto it, so I ran with it. During the next week, I read 3 years of Starbucks’ annual reports…and realized it was going to be damn near impossible for us to understand what happened without essentially re-presenting what a million analysts had already said. We’d have to fabricate numbers, speculate on causation…it would be more of a storytelling exercise than an analysis. We could do it, but I felt like there was some better project out there. So, for the next class, I came in with three new ideas: analysis of putting a casino into Waukegan (e.g., something the city would do to convince the state to put the new license there), analysis of a massage-based promotion for a casino, or business plan for an internet-based chocolate company. J really liked both of the casino ideas, but once again, P shot them down. Frustrated, I asked again if they had any ideas that they preferred. Nothing, nada. So, I mention that J has been complaining that her office hasn’t hired enough staff and uses an outdated paper-based system…why don’t we analyse her situation toward pushing for a more efficient solution? J gets excited about this and starts pushing for it. Finally, we get P&G on board and we’re good to go.

We’re now approaching the winter break, so I mention that I’d like for us to meet once during winter break to further solidify this idea (with more input that J promises to dig up for us once she finishes her midterm). P starts proposing a bunch of midday times. I gently point out that I work during the day. J agrees. So, I ask if we can meet at the same start time as our class, since we know we have that time free. P gripes about having to meet in the evening, so I offer to meet at 5pm on a Monday. P relents, but not without making a smartass remark about how he doesn’t understand why we can’t take an hour away from work to meet.

Um, dumbass, because it’s WORK…and while I’m morally okay with websurfing or doing personal e-mail when I have nothing better to do, scheduling a school meeting during work time just seems like pushing it to me. With web-based stuff, if something comes up, I can drop it and attend to work ASAP. You can’t do that with a meeting. I don’t bring my homework into school to do, and I don’t expect my manager’s approval of my school plan included the thought that I’d use work time to do it, aside from occasionally leaving a little early to get to class. Grr.

But…I just make a little joke about work being for work, laugh a bit, and leave it at that. So, P’s next thing is that he has the grading criteria (which we get as part of the syllabus) and he wants to do the table of contents of the paper based on the criteria. :: sigh :: Okay, it’s an approach. So, I let it go. But come on. That’s not the reason you get a grading criteria. You do the project, then you look at the criteria to make sure you covered the bases. You also check your topic against the criteria to make sure it is broad enough to meet the requirements. You don’t frame up the whole damn project against the criteria. That’s just sad, and it’s generally obvious when you’ve done it. It’s a B- effort, and I’m an A+ gal.

But at this point, I’m tired of fighting with the guy and sensitive that I’m coming off badly here, so I let it go. We end up meeting the next week, and we spend the whole conference call nattering with no value. I try three times to get us to do a task that would move us forward, like working out a project schedule, hammering out some details of the task, splitting up some research tasks…and P and J both nix all of this in favor of rambling and no decisions. ARGH! It was a waste of an hour.

A week later, I find out at the last minute, when I have other plans, that P had scheduled the meeting as a recurrence, so we were supposed to meet again at the same time. P apparently assumed that even those of us who aren’t using our work e-mail for e-mails (clearly, with Gmail domains and Yahoo domains) will somehow be able to process his Outlook meeting recurrence correctly. (Gmail added the first instance to the calendar but missed the recurrence.) I decide to blow it off, since it was just luck that I even saw the e-mail…and since the last meeting was a total bust. I figure, if it’s actually me derailing things, they’ll have a great meeting and assign me stuff to do, and I’ll feel better. If it’s not me, they’ll accomplish nothing, and I’ll have missed nothing. Sure enough, P, J, & S are the only ones to show up and nothing happens, as they decide to not meet without the rest of us.

So, P sends out a somewhat pissy e-mail to all of us, to which I reply with a polite e-mail giving the excuse I’d planned (that I hadn’t seen the recurrence). He proposes a new meeting time that is in the middle of my upcoming vacation…so I say that I’ll be on vacation then and that the group should feel free to meet without me, and I’ll catch up with them when I return. I list out the things I’ve already committed to do, and I give some “deadline” timelines that I need things by from the rest of the group, noting in one case why I’m making a deadline a little earlier than necessary (due to a prior commitment). I also say I’ll be happy to take care of whatever the group feels is best, that I feel very comfortable with the subject matter.

P responds saying that “we’ll let [[you]] do what [[you’ve]] committed” but will definitely want me to “do more”. And it’s hard to explain, but he really writes this in a way that makes it sound like I’m shirking or trying to get away with doing a minimal amount. And yeah, I blew off the meeting…and maybe he guesses that…but come on! I’m telling them to give me whatever dirty work they don’t want to do, and he looks that gift horse in the mouth??? Bastard. And he’s “letting” me do things? Bite me.

The fact is that I am trying my best to not run this project. I ran the last one. I’m trying to get someone else to take the lead, and P is certainly doing that. I appreciate that part. But I don’t appreciate that he’s being all tooly and asshatty about it. I don’t appreciate that he is doing the minimum necessary for the grade instead of trying to go above and beyond. I also don’t like his approach or style at all. I think he’s meeting the word of the project and blowing off the spirit, and that sucks to me.

The net of this is that I’m feeling zero motivation to work on this project. If I had a way to get out of it, to change to another group, I’d jump on it. But, I don’t. What sucks is that this crappy group is going to end up hurting my grade, and that pisses me off more than I can imagine. I’m really trying my best to just sit back at this point, wait to get a task, bat it out of the damn park, and give a giant finger to P in the process. Grr.

1 thought on “Project Blues”

  1. I’ve so been there. I hate group projects where evaluation is critical, because, like you, when I am at bat, I choose to hit homers, not singles. HUG (What follows are suggestions only)

    P sounds as if he wants to be “president” and watch “congress” struggle/work while he sits back with “veto-pen-in-hand.” Funny thing about those guys…if nothing hits their desk, their presumed power dissolves.

    Have you talked with the professor/advisor for the class about these issues? It might be a good idea to establish a dialog early (prior to any evaluation) about your concerns: loss of motivation and the “mediocre goal” and “last-minute-lou, lack of planning” that your group seems to be establishing.

    Also, consider that some people (I won’t name names) self-sabotage because unconsciously they like the adrenaline rush of being “hot-to-trot at the last minute” and pushing thru a deadline. Without realizing it they set themselves up for high stress and drag everyone else along for the roller-coaster ride.

    OR P MIGHT JUST BE A BULLY (aka jacktool) 🙂 and bullies are just a P.I.T.A. to try to work with.

    I deal with every sort of “procrastinator” every day in my job, (Your tax dollars at work, my rear-end!) whereas I am a “get as much done AHEAD AND EARLY as I can” kind of person. I love a good “post-rush, lookie what we did” high as much as the next guy. But I do not believe that elevated blood pressure should be SOP for every single day. 🙂

    You might simply point out all these concerns you have to the group at the next opportunity. Keep logic and reason close at hand so you don’t give P any reason to blow off your concerns as “female emotionalism.”

    Maybe even lay the issues out as bullets on a hand-out, so nobody can “mis-hear” what you intend to discuss. Then simply present it to the group that (as examples)
    (1) you are not “just taking a class” and that you plan to put out the work at the highest preformance level you can manage
    (2) that you have multiple OTHER OBLIGATIONS that will not be allowed to interfere with, but that also will not be “back-seated” for, this class
    (3) that a solid PLAN OF ACHIEVEMENT MILESTONES is imperative to your working style and that you will establish a series of intermediate goals with or without the rest of the group

    I’m betting there are others in your group feeling the same frustrations as you are. With a little (cattle) prodding you might get them to speak up.

    Another tactic used by bullies: throwing up their hands and sitting back to watch you fail. You are a natural leader and NLs have a hard time following. (I feel your pain.)

    Even if you don’t want to “be the driver” of this group, you are the one that is vocalizing/presenting issues & you are the one who is worried about the end-grade. Be prepared to be literally handed the leadership role.

    That old saying comes to mind: Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way.

    You might even try to speak privately to each of the others to see how they are dealing with P. Yeah, it is sort of an “ambush” P’s tyranny to go to everyone else. (A shepherd without sheep is just a guy standing out in the snow.) But that should establish the attitudes of the others without P having the opportunity to intimidate anyone.

    No matter how it goes, HUG. 🙂
    (Very Proud of You) <–yes, that’s total TML perogative, but there it is anyway

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *