Sunday, August 22, 2010

It’s not the size that counts…

Any company that produces something will be faced with the task of estimating effort. (A company that produces nothing only has to estimate how long they think they can keep afloat.) Whether you build hovercrafts or databases, someone is going to want to know how long you think it will take, so that they can then ask “can you do it in half that?”

Estimates are used by different people in different ways. Marketing use estimates to determine the maximum amount they can get away with charging for a product. Clients use estimates to work out the smallest amount they can get away with paying for a product. And the estimators themselves use the estimates to indicate their willingness to create the product in question - the higher the estimate, the more reluctant they are.

Estimates are usually based on some form of written requirement from the client. To get an idea of the size of the project, reformat this document using a standard font size, line spacing and margin settings. Then print it on 80GSM paper, and bind with a single 26/6 staple. Weigh this document, in grams (accurate to the 3rd decimal place) take away 6.738 and then multiply this number by 11.375. The resulting number is your estimate by weight, known as a heftimate. (Note that more important projects, such as tenders, may be printed on a better class of thicker paper, bound in folders with metal rings. These heavier documents will provide larger heftimates which in turn reflects the gravitas of the project.)

Heftimation in incredibly accurate, and takes the guesswork out of sizing a project. This means that projects are more likely to come in on budget, clients will be happier, and most importantly it means that no one will ever need to use the word “guesstimate” ever again.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A weighty problem

It may come as a surprise to some that the sedentary nature of working in the software industry can significantly increase your weight. Plankton has found that the cumulative waistline of all staff has risen from a modest 1,594cm to 7,438cm in the last three weeks alone. For a company that only employs 37 people, this is quite a concern. While Plankton does what it can to prevent employee weight gain (including providing caffeinated drinks to increase metabolism and hi-carb foods to maintain elevated energy levels) there are measures that each individual staff member can also undertake to help take the stress off the company floorboards.

The quickest way to lose weight in the office is to desimplify your communications. When typing a document, approximately 7.8 kilojoules are burnt with every keystroke. Therefore the more words you use, and the longer each word is, the better your document will be for you.

But the health benefits of a larger document do not stop there. When printed, this mega-document will cause the printer to run for longer and hotter, thus increasing the already sauna-like conditions in the office. The larger printed document will, obviously, be heavier, especially if the company-recommended “weight loss printer settings” (font size 36, triple spacing and single side) are used. This will make lifting the document an exercise regime all in itself.

This larger document will also require more reviewing. Larger review teams, having more meetings, means that more people will move from their desks to meeting rooms and back, all while carrying this impressive dumbell-esque tome. Consequently, the more words a document has, the more changes are likely to be required, which means more reprinting, more reviewing and more meetings.

This cycle will hopefully continue until the documents people create are bigger and heavier than the people that created them.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Busyus Interruptus

For the last 28 years the Grindstone Institute has been performing studies on office busyness, and have today released their findings. The paper, which most people will themselves be too busy to read, reveals that finding out if someone is too busy to be interrupted is the leading cause of workplace interruptions.

‘It’s all very quantum’ said Dr. Charles Higgs-Boson, Lead Boffin on the project. ‘Basically, it’s impossible to observe the state of someone’s busyness without disturbing that busyness. Interrupting someone with the question “Can I interrupt?” will at best result in a withering response of “Apparently” and at worst lead to filling in a workplace incident form.’

If you must speak with someone but suspect they might be too busy, try sending an email. Emails are the most unobtrusive form of office communication. Email servers can be slightly unreliable though, so after sending it also go up to the person, let them know you sent them an email, and give them a quick rundown of the content.

If you prefer, call the person, let the phone ring once and then hang up. If they are busy they can choose to ignore it, and if they are not they can use the caller ID feature to ring you back. Do this every five minutes until you hear from them.

Sometimes you need to actually speak to someone face to face. Rather than talking to the person in question, however, approach their neighbour. Ask your questions clearly and loudly. If you can use words that sound remarkably like the name of the potentially busy person then all the better.

‘But be careful of the Busyness Feedback Loop®,’ warns Dr. Higgs-Boson. ‘Too often we see people spending so much time determining the best ways to interrupt others that they themselves become so busy they can no longer be approached.’

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Presentation Palpitations

As part of your role you may be required to give a presentation to clients. This can cause a lot of stress. When you speak to clients you are not just representing Plankton: for that moment in time you are Plankton. Everything you say is a reflection on the company, and it is likely that each client’s opinion of Plankton will be altered by what you have to say. So as long as you perform perfectly, there shouldn’t be anything to stress about.

If you look for help outside Rob’s Office Tips (fine, whatever, as if I care) you will be told that you should know your material. This is great if you are trying to mould impressionable minds - like a “groovy” university lecturer or a cult leader - but a presentation to clients is different. Clients desperately need to know they are the smartest person in the room. So if acting stupidly doesn’t come naturally then make sure you know nothing about your topic and provide clients ample opportunities to correct you.

One common technique to overcome fear of public speaking is to picture the audience naked. However this can be quite taxing on the imagination. Spending all your time wondering what is under Frieda’s cardigan will certainly divert you from stress, but the extra mental effort may also distract you from your actual presentation. The company database contains pictures of many of our clients and by using photo editing software to combine these photos with pictures downloaded from select internet sites, you won’t have to imagine what these people look like naked, you will be able to see it for yourself. To ensure full disclosure, include the pictures in your presentation. This also works as an icebreaker.

If all goes well your clients will walk away feeling smarter and sexier than they will ever be in real life.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Rumour Millers

People love a good rumour. But as with the insane ramblings of Nostradamus, the truthfulness of any office rumour can only be determined after the events in question have taken place. However, certain types of people share certain types of information, and you can soon learn to recognise patterns of rumours based on their source.

  • Cynifacts – These people will spread rumours that do contain an element of truth, but getting to it means cutting through Eeyore-esque levels of pessimism and cynicism. Even rumours of positive events - such as a company party - are presented negatively: “I heard they’re not inviting that guy who was sacked four years ago after he set fire to Roger’s fish tank. They’re so cheap.”
  • Enigma Machines – These people generally know something but have been sworn to secrecy and so will often speak in code. They wiggle eyebrows, tap noses, and say things like “well I’d like to tell you but…” This means they are more interested in telling you that they know something, rather than telling you what it is. Usually any information these people hold is so trivial that most people either already know or just don’t care.
  • Misinformants - These people usually start their sentences with “I shouldn’t be telling you this…” and the reason they shouldn’t be telling you is that they know that they just made it up.
  • Management – These people know lots of secrets. In many ways it is a manager’s job to keep secrets so that the rest of the company can get on with their actual work without the burden of knowledge. Managers will not share a secret with anyone until they no longer wish it to be a secret, at which point they will let the Enigma Machines, the Cynifacts and even the Misinformants spread the word in their own special ways.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Social Animals

You will spend over two thirds of your waking life at or on your way to work (assuming you work a 40 hour week, commute from New Zealand every day, and sleep approximately 14 hours a night). It is therefore vital that any socialising at work is done with people you don’t hate.

The Plankton social scene shares a number of similarities to that of any high school. There are the cool kids, the nerds, the jocks and that one kid who smells like wee. Finding someone to have a coffee with is simply a matter of determining into which group you fit. This is easy if you have a realistic idea of your personality but difficult if, like most people, you hold the delusion that you cannot be pigeon-holed but are in fact an individual who is easy going enough to fit into any group.

In the break room there is a chart showing the hierarchy and current membership of each social clique. There are two basic approaches to finding your place. You may choose to start at the top of this chart and work your way down. This can be discouraging because, as you try to fit in to each group, you will be met with a number of rejections. However, this will be offset by a warm feeling of acceptance once you have sunk to the right level.

Alternatively you may start at the bottom and work your way up. Your confidence will soar as you sweep up the hierarchy, leaving the socially inept in your wake, until you finally encounter a group that are, frankly, too good for you. You can then saunter back into the previous group with the confidence that you have found your true home.

If you can’t get any group to accept you it would be advisable to get your bladder checked.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Junket Junkies

We are all important. Staff who work in support, development, administration or yes, even management, all contribute to Plankton’s success. However, there are obviously a few of us who are slightly more important than the others. Those few are the ones chosen to go on company outings, or junkets.

Put simply, a junket is any trip that takes you away from the Plankton offices and provides some kind of free stuff. Not all junkets are the same, though, and learning to recognise the different types can save you some embarrassment when bragging to your colleagues.

Working junket: Sure, you get to stay in a hotel. You get free meals. You might even get a free pen. But they actually expect you to work. And not just namby pamby “give a presentation” kind of work, but the kind of work where if you didn’t look up and see a slightly different shade of grey carpet on the cubicle wall you might think you were still at your own desk.

Junket du jour, or junkette. This is any trip, for example training or a seminar, that lasts for a day or less. You don’t get an overnight stay, but you do get free stuff. An un-catered meeting at a client site does not count as a junkette. If you get a donut then it’s an incredibly pathetic junkette, but a junkette nevertheless.

Maxi Junket: This is the real deal. You get an overnight stay, you get free meals and free merchandise (preferably electronic in nature). You may even fly to get there. And hopefully all you need to do is wear a name tag for three days while industry hawkers try to convince you of the quality of their product in the hope that you are more important than you look.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Communication Breakdown

As the human species evolves, so does its methods of communication. When life began in the primordial soup, we were solitary and silent. As marine life we used colours to indicate location. Once we became simplistic land animals we used smells as a form of marking territory and as we developed physically we began to use facial expressions and crude drawings. Basic grunting soon followed until we eventually developed spoken language.

After that came the written word, and then Gutenberg’s famous invention: the printing press. (Note that although he had great success with his first printing press, each one after that deteriorated in quality until Printing Press 7: Mission To Moscow, which Gutenberg wasn’t even involved with.) Technology had changed forever how we communicate and would so again with the typewriter and finally the internet.

And it is no surprise that each stage of this particular evolutionary journey is represented in the modern office.

Some people drift alone from meeting to meeting never aware of those around them. Cyclists in the office use their revealing and brightly coloured bodysuits to let us know “I AM GOING FOR A RIDE NOW!” and they, along with all other exercising employees use a form of smell to let us know when they have returned.

The facial expressions of certain developers when you ask “why can’t we stick this widget on this doovie here” instantly conveys precisely where they would like to stick your widget, and one visit to the toilets will let you know that many people here are quite adept at basic grunting and crude drawings.

Finally, spoken and written words have developed with the technology on which we use them, with new words being coined daily. In fact, due to time management directives, all Plankton staff have now been instructed to invent new words rather than waste time referentialising existing ones.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Location Location Location

If you have worked at Plankton for longer than three months, chances are you will have moved desks at least twice. Management take great care to ensure that people who are working on similar projects, as well as people with complimentary skill sets, are seated together. However, sometimes they just like to mess with our heads.

Look around the office and you will see that there are exactly three people who have never moved desks. Look deeper, however, and you will soon find that neither those people, nor the desks at which they sit, actually exist. Like a desert oasis or a short efficient meeting, they are a utopian illusion created by our subconscious in hope of what might one day exist. Collectively we think “I wish I could be like Lee. (At least, I think that’s his – or her - name. Short-ish tall person - got a sort of light coloured black hair.) Lee has never had to move, so maybe one day, neither will I.”

With everyone constantly on the move, it can be difficult to find a particular person when you need to. Each desk is assigned a Cartesian co-ordinate, however these are only to be used when playing office games (“QA at F9 takes manager’s pawn at C4 - You sunk my project team!”). Older staff will remember the complex network of mirrors that were installed in the ceiling, which made finding someone as easy as looking up. However, for privacy reasons these have been replaced with a new system. Look on your arm, or perhaps on some other part of your body, and you will notice a small scar. While you were sleeping Plankton operatives installed a tracking chip in you, and the wiki page showing the exact location of each staff member is now online.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Email is not a dirty word

Email is an essential tool in the modern office. Sending an email can save time, save paper and most importantly save you from any physical interaction with your colleagues. Also, by allowing you time to review and edit your message, emails ensure that clear and concise communication is achieved, and any misunderstandings are avoided (although this has never been proven in practice).

The wonderful thing about email is that whether you are organising a meeting or forwarding a funny joke about cats, it always looks like work. One fictional study has shown that 87% of an office worker’s time is taken up by sending and receiving emails, and 94% of those emails are not work related (the other 6% are from managers asking you to do something you were already doing).

One email pitfall, however, is the Reply-To-All button. Most sensible companies have this button disabled but here at Plankton we relish the moments where someone accidentally tells everyone what their special dietary requirements are, what they really think of their Line Manager or which co-worker they’ve been discreetly seeing after work.

If you find the temptation too strong, there is a plugin that can be installed on the Reply-To-All button which will, every time you press it, ask you a series of mathematical, logical, grammatical, emotional and moral questions. After you submit this short survey, the system will determine if you are intelligent and responsible enough to be allowed to send your message.

Regardless of how you send your email please be aware that every single email is printed on ePaper. To help preserve the eTrees and prevent eClimate-Change consider whether you really need to send that next email, or whether it would perhaps be better to print your message (with a cover and footer sheet) and slip it into the coal-powered vacuum tube system we have installed in the wall cavities.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Food for thought

If you work somewhere for long enough you will learn to interpret the little signs that the environment is giving you. A streaky line on a printout means the toner needs replacing. If the coffee machine is beeping and its lights are flashing, then someone has got a full house and won the jackpot. And if the air conditioning is working it means that we have moved offices.

One sign that we all should learn to recognise is the presence of a large group of clients. When clients are in the office, staff are expected to dress neatly and behave with more courtesy than is usual (i.e. some). More importantly though, there is a strong chance that there is a catered meeting, and that means free leftovers.

Leftovers from a catered meeting often come out just after most people return from their lunch break, however it is common knowledge that the stomachus dessertus we develop as a child (the extra gastric organ which allows children to be full of broccoli and meatloaf but still have room for ice-cream) matures at adulthood into stomachus leftoverus. This makes it possible for someone to be brimming from a recently consumed lunch and still find room for free chicken sticks and deep fried cheese balls.

If you are privileged enough to actually attend a catered meeting, keep in mind your co-workers who are not. You may be tempted to employ all available stomachs, and eat as much as you possibly can, ensuring the freeloaders get nothing. But remember that you were once like them, eagerly flocking with the other seagulls outside the meeting-room door. You should make sure that something is left behind for them, even if it is just those cucumber and celery sticks wrapped in rice paper that nobody else wants.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Eternal Struggle

Some people crave exposure to nature and the outdoors and will endeavour to brighten their world with sunshine whenever possible. Let’s call these people hippies. Others avoid the sun at all costs, shying away from its ultraviolet glare and seeking out darkness in every corner that it lurks. Let’s call these people vampires.

Those who are untrained in the delicate balance of the office ecosystem would assume that the best place for hippies is in the sunlight of a window seat, and the best place for vampires is in the darkness towards the centre of the building. This is certainly what each group would prefer, however if this arrangement were to occur the vampires would just sleep all day hanging upside-down in the exposed network cables running through the ceiling ducts, and the hippies would continually sing folk songs and stick flowers in their USB ports. Very little software development would happen.

Not surprisingly the opposite arrangement, with hippies in the darkness and vampires in the light, is equally disastrous. Without their friend the sun to guide them through the day, the hippies would wander blindly and disturb the mushroom plantations growing in the empty computer boxes. And of course, with regular exposure to sunlight the vampires would simply combust.

So management, in its increasingly evident wisdom, has decided to mingle these groups. Some vampires are forced to sit near the window, and are locked in constant conflict with the nature loving hippies over the state of the blinds. Some hippies, on the other hand, are forced to inhabit the gloom, providing the resident vampires with a free, if somewhat frightened and bewildered, snack.

Thus the ecosystem is maintained and productivity is at its peak. And as long as people are willing to clean up the small piles of ash and the shreds of bloodied tie-dyed clothing that inevitably appear, there will always be spare desks and room for new employees.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Conversational Escape Hatch

Conversations are a necessary part of office life, but be careful when entering a conversation that you don’t bite off more than you can chew. A simple greeting such as “how are you” can be a catalyst for a five minute monologue on the intricate details of the health of someone’s sinuses. A passing remark on the universal loveliness of the party pie may begin a vegan diatribe on the obvious similarities between meat and murder. Even making a humorous but accurate criticism of one of your superiors while they are standing right behind you may start a regrettable, albeit one-sided, exchange.

Once you find yourself in troubled conversational waters you need a cunning strategy for escape. The first temptation is to pretend to be busy, but your co-workers may see through this. Remember, the only reason many people are still employed here is that they know how to pretend to be busy.

Acting crazy, on the other hand, is perfect. No-one wants to be caught talking to the insane person (after all that is exactly what you are trying to avoid). Look suddenly into a space just above and to the left of the speaker’s face and say “Did you feel that? As if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.” Then vaguely wander off, as if looking for the source of the disturbance.

A final tip: under no circumstance should you say “this is fascinating, but I really need to go to the toilet”. Firstly, it will it give the speaker inspiration for a whole new thread of uncomfortable conversation topics that will haunt you until your dying day. But more horrifically, it will allow them to follow you into the facilities to complete their anecdote while simultaneously, if you are very very lucky, relieving their bladder.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Something Wiki This Way Comes

Welcome to the Plankton wiki. Here you will find all manner of useful and organically growing information which will help you, the average Plankton employee, in your constant uphill struggle against ignorance.

A common misconception people have is that all wikis are like that most famous of wikis: wikipedia. This is not necessarily the case as every wiki is entirely configurable by the company that runs it, and will evolve depending on how it’s used [citation needed].

What makes a wiki different from any other centralised source of knowledge is constant contributions by individuals - by you. It helps to think of a wiki as a kind of chain, with each staff member providing a metal link of information, and each link forming together to create an informational whole of unimaginable strength. It’s a useful analogy and I’m almost positive that thing they say about chain strength and weakest links doesn’t apply.

Many people are concerned that if too many people work on the same page its original intent, or even its grammatical correctness, can be lost. However, recent studies have shown that even though a single sentence of a wiki page may be collaborated on by a large number of people, there is never a problem with the tense or structure, even though a single sentence of a wiki page may be collaborated on by a large number of people, according to recent studies.

Collaboration is one of Plankton's keywords, and wikis are the epitome of collaboration. Like bees and the Borg, wikis are the product of a hive mind. The sooner you assimilate Plankton’s wiki into your everyday life the sooner you will realise: we are Plankton: resistance is futile.

Wiki last updated: April 31, 1947 by Anonymous User

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


I have said this before but it’s important for the people that employ me to understand: Plankton is a great place to work. Having said that, there are elements of the Plankton office, as with any office (or indeed any other environment where people who would otherwise hate each other are artificially thrown together), that can cause problems. When one staff member has an issue with the behaviour of another, for example, tensions can rise. There are however a number of ways to approach the problem before more official channels can be pursued.

Firstly it is important to know that under no circumstances should you approach the person who is at issue. This kind of direct communication is foreign to most modern offices, and will only cause more tension and potential bodily harm.

By far the most effective and often the most favoured method of conflict resolution is the anonymous note. Whether left on a whiteboard in the hallway or on the remaining chunk of extra vintage tasty in the staff fridge, the anonymous note sends a message not only to the person in question, but to any other passer-by (depending on the size of the note). This has the effect of spreading guilt evenly over the whole company, so that even the most honest person would never again consider nabbing your mouldy work cheese.

However if all else fails, most staff at Plankton know that they can always approach the one person in the company who will listen and do something constructive towards solving any problem they may have. All they need to say is “I’ve got an idea for one of your Office Tips”.