The Dark Side of Consulting

The Dark Side of Consulting

Awhile back, I was contracted to guide the final stage of operations for an endeavor.  The venture sounded interesting and the sales pitch was a good one.  They knew how to sell their startup and they had a great message. It sounded like a pretty sweet deal.  It was also supposed to lead to a longer contract on the back end.   

I signed up and off the signature line, there were problems…


The Start Down the Path

We’d had agreed that I’d be there first of the following month.  Initially, the owners asked me to help them locate other potential contractors.  At first, this wasn’t a problem because they only asked for a suggestion.  But that tuned into a whole slew of additional projects that consumed quite a bit of time. I had to remind them I wasn’t on contract at this point, and I was midway into another project.  Unfortunately, that reminder went unheeded.  Their requests continued until it was time for me to head to their office.

During my drive, I received a text asking me to detour to another city to attend a conference they were at.  I declined since there wasn’t accommodations in place for when I arrived.  This city was a couple hundred miles away from location and my destination.  By now, all of their ‘favors’ we’re costing me in time, which translated to money for my business.  Not to mention the few hundred dollars for attendance to the conference. This one was another red flag, but I ignored it and continued the trip. 

Kneecapped on Day 1

It’s here I’ll tell you I should have seen what was coming next.

The morning of my first day on location, I was told I didn’t have any “power”.  Being contracted to guide the project, the owners thought that meant I worked for them as an employee in their flat organization.  I didn’t realize it at first, but that quickly changed. The owners were explicit in directing everything; from where the contractors sat to working hours.  Everyone, except the owners and one contractor, were new to the project. Each having arrived within a few days of one another and only two months from delivery. This meant, their work hand’t even begun, let alone come close to being anywhere near ready for a client to see. 

Help! The Project is Lost Without a Map

To make things worse, there wasn’t any kind of project plan.  Warning the owners about the obstacles they had created; their response was to create more roadblocks.  No one was authorized to send emails as communication.  As project manager, I wasn’t supposed to talk to the team.  The owners went so far as to say, “I’ll know you’re doing your job when you never speak to them.”  The crew was fifteen steps away in the workshop.  The owners wanted everything on a chat platform to monitor what we were saying. 

With restricted communication, the next few weeks became a mess.  The owners continuing their micromanagement of the crew.  Which changed nothing about the rate of progress.  As the deadline loomed, the owners railed against everything, singling out something they’d ‘get pissed off about’.  Then they’d use it to batter members of the team.  With their constant tirades, the owners managed to create silence and fear in the workshop.  Each meeting, the owners would criticize everything, reminding people that they “worked for them and had to do things their way”.  

New issues arose, each was promptly ignored or argued about.  To further complicate things, one of the owners was continuously changing the mechanical design.  On the flip side, the electrical work was reliant on a single individual who was rapidly approaching burnout.  I tried to coach them through, to no avail.  At one point we left to go pick up my car and have dinner.  We wanted to talk about the project and some other things.  The owners called, belittling us for leaving. The engineer was told that it was important that he stay and work.  Even going so far as to tell him that there wasn’t communication because he left for dinner at 5pm. 

The End is Nigh!

Without actual authority or free ability to manage my own working conditions, I was not able to stop the forth coming problems.  It took about a week for the venture to slam to a halt.  We were less than two weeks away from departing for project delivery. The electronics engineer terminated their contract on their way to the airport. 

With their slipshod management, the owners chased off the previous electronics engineers.  Now they were doing the same to this one. The company had been working on the project for several years.  Without pass down information, all previous iterations were lost to time.  The lack of a conclusive project plan, a concrete mechanical device to work with, or assistance with build, the electronics engineer simply had enough.  That left the current engineer feeling overwhelmed.  They had worked over 300 hours to redesign the electronic systems from ground up in three short weeks.  

Total Chaos

Chaos ensued. A meeting was called, instantly becoming a one-sided barrage of personal attacks.  The company owners berated the departed engineer as though they were the sole cause of all their woes.  In the same slapdash manner, they arrived at this point, they forced their beliefs about the importance of their ‘win’. 

By now, I’d spent the duration of the contract listening to the owners berate the team, investors, myself, and others that crossed their path.  Whiplashing between fawning over an outside advisers while slandering departed crewmen, the spectacle was nauseating.  They failed to comply with agency regulations governing their business and the project.  It wasn’t like they were unaware of the broken system they had created. That was the worse part. They knew but brazenly continued.


Growth from Knowledge

Every dark spot in life is a chance for growth.  Reading through the journal I kept for this contract, made it clear each mistake I had made. I feel it also important to say, that I think I saw the worst of business owners in that contract.  Allowing the contract to continue, I had set myself up to endure abusive and abrasive business owners.  Through everything, the owners thought they were right.  They arrogantly justified ignoring laws and regulations.  They thought they were creating something was cutting edge. 

Conversation and communication are a key parts to the working environment.  Understanding past work, previous problems and iterations, plus having clear cut guidelines is imperative to creating a project delivery.  There’s more to project management than just a deadline.

I guess I should tell you that I left the project two days after that meeting. Carrying on, I require the project plan up front.  I don’t work outside of the contract time lines any more either.  I also include a clause for bad behaviors and illegal activities in any contracts.

Art and Critics

Art and Critics

So, I began this with video games and I have been encouraged to continue to do so. By encouraged I mean heavily implied that’s what I am going to do.

But, but, but!

My freedom of choice!

How can I be creative with the yoke of oppression on me?  

I am joking, mostly.  In video games this has become a serious issue. It’s one that has led to death threats, promises of violence, and terrible behavior on the part of gamers.

Mass Effect 3 had a wobbly ending.

There are those who will give you a wall of text on the ins and outs with precisely all the minuscule aspects of this ending.  More so, that they felt that it was a travesty, a crime against nature, and God. They bombarded BioWare with these messages.  More that, the company put out a “fix” to address many of the dominant issues gamers had.

I only had one problem with it.  How the hell did the ground team get on the ship after you saw them smacked around like ping pong balls?

The answer to this amazing feat, I felt they addressed admirably. I am a sucker for the happy ending and it was nice to get closure with all the NPC characters. Everything else folks wanted superfluous.  I have you know, I also didn’t send death threats or walls of texts to BioWare.

I’ve just brought up a very serious topic and we as gamers need to talk about this.  How do threats and abuse effect one’s creativity? Who would want to make something or fix something for someone who called them names or threated their lives?

This is the sticky bits because this tends to get people flamed or even doxed. 

It’s like cooking a giant multi course meal and having it thrown at you because you didn’t give them the right dessert. Yet, BioWare didn’t balk outwardly, they took in what was said and remade the ending for their fans. In no way are they obligated to do this no matter what rabid fans will say. In the end, they are a company and can do what they want, but they stepped up and provided another alternative.

The obligation to fans is to entertain them with a game, sometimes you hit and sometimes you miss. That isn’t the point I am debating.  To redo the entire ending was a large complicated and costly uptake.  It was also one of unprecedented of it size.

So, would you, oh reader, as an artist do the same thing?

Man, I took the long way around to get here huh? Artists have critics, wanted and certainly unwanted. How do they affect your art and should they? Where is the line, or is there one? A simple question with layered answers.

I can be positively bubbly here and say you should let it inspire you (which you totally should.) For example, I made an amazing still life in school through a wall of anger because I didn’t want to work on that at all. There will always be critics, hopefully constructive ones.  And, I just want to point out that death threats and the like aren’t criticism. 

How critics affect you is up to you. Sometimes they should be ignored, but sometimes they can share a perspective with you that’s fresh and stimulating. I have never felt that others should dictate your art to you.  But, they can open your eyes to new possibilities and avenues you couldn’t see previously.