Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Office Space was a documentary.

Earlier today I got a phone call from the lawyer on a certain project team, asking me to identify where we used a certain phrase in a recent document. We had hoped that this thing would be published before a certain date, but it looks like it won't, so we now need to make sure that we didn't promise that it would be.

When he spoke to me, I was starting to dread going through the whole chain of previous versions of the document to find when and how and if we had phrased this part. Am I looking for how the public would read the implementation period, or how the teams' immediate superiors would think of it, or what the regulatory body beyond them would think? Am I looking for the phrase in the preamble of the document that establishes our authority for this, in the regulatory text that actually makes the new regulation, or what? In the text of the Word document, in comments, or both? We have been careful about tracking changes to cover everyones' asses, so there are literally 26 versions of the document (and probably more, filed in the wrong folder somewhere). I had until Friday; that seemed to be enough time, but it would take a fair amount of work to check all that.

But a few minutes after the phone call, I got an e-mail with a document attached. He just wants me to search the latest version; no need to worry about comments or previous versions of the document. And it turned out to be an easy task: the phrase "at least" does not appear there at all in relation to years, or any other lengths of time. His concern was apparently addressed during the editing process.

I was tempted to take until Friday to get around to it and claim I was reviewing all 26 documents and blame it on my misunderstanding of our phone conversation. Don't worry, I'm not enough of a Wally to actually do that; I already sent the e-mail quoting the relevant bits of the document. Still, two and a half hours elapsed between getting his e-mail and sending mine. It took me 10 or 20 minutes to search for the relevant phrases and anything else I could think of, write an e-mail, and copy-paste a few paragraphs into it. The rest of the intervening time was spent writing this, reading webcomics, triple-checking the document past the point of necessity just to cover my own ass, reading or thinking about other projects, and other non-essential stuff.

OK, so I'm not great about getting down to business diligently. We know this already. But here's something I don't get: what's the lawyer's excuse? Knowing exactly what he wanted from the start, he could have done this in the time it took him to give me the assignment. Open the document, hit Ctrl+F, search for "at least a year", add a few other related phrases to be safe, and call it a day. After that, if he wanted to be sure, he could have sent out an e-mail explaining the issue to me or other people and asking them to double-check. (The assignment e-mail was CCed to two other people on the team, as was my reply.) Half an hour at most for me if I was being responsible, 15 minutes for him. Given that he gave me more than three days to do it, I should be able to do it no matter how busy I am, so I have to assume he didn't know how long it would take. The guy apparently does not know how to use Microsoft Word. Again, to be clear, we are not talking about esoteric computer skills here, we are talking about the Find function. There are three different ways to do it in Word. It might seem "above and beyond" to search for related things and similar things as well in addition to what you actually want, but anyone who has done a Web search should know that you sometimes have to rephrase it, right? Right?

For which desk job is all of this not part of the basic skill set?

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