Project Management

When the Significant Other pulls rank

If spousal emergencies and interruptions occur frequently while you're working on a consulting engagement, Chip Camden offers advice on how to attempt to solve this problem.

I've often said that the most difficult aspect of IT consulting has nothing to do with IT. Rather, it's the human relationships composing and surrounding our profession that cause all the troubles. We've often discussed managing relationships with clients, vendors, and subcontractors, but our relationships with non-business entities pose potentially even greater challenges.

In business relationships, you can almost always distill conflicting priorities down to business obligations and opportunities, then compare their relative costs, risks, and benefits. That strategy rapidly breaks down when personal relationships enter the picture. For example, take this story from TechRepublic member Bob Eisenhardt (reisen55):

I was at my retainer based medical office complex this past weekend, and in one office I performed a simple server reboot to accommodate that lovely firm in Redmond, Washington that put out a ton of patches past week and required a reboot. Simple. Server comes up and, with zero Internet. Anywhere in the office. So I check DNS logs and begin troubleshooting...

wife calls....

"You have to come home NOW, I CANNOT WALK THE DOGS AND THEY HAVE TO GO OUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

These spousal emergencies always seem to happen concurrently with client emergencies, don't they? Guess who wins. There's a reason why we call them "Significant Others" — their influence on our lives has an overriding significance and ignoring them without providing correspondingly convincing explanations will lead to dire consequences.

Fortunately for Bob, it worked out in the end. Taking the time off to walk the dogs allowed his networking problem to resolve itself. But these things don't always have such happy endings. I can't begin to enumerate the times when I've been in a particularly deep debugging or design session in which I've carefully juxtaposed numerous details like a house of cards in my mind, when suddenly it all gets blown down by the office door bursting open accompanied by "There's a huge spider on the wall!" or "Why isn't my email working?" or "Can you take out this stinky garbage?"

Now, if I traveled across town to work for an employer, I doubt that these issues would provoke a demand for my immediate presence. But since I'm self-employed and work at home, my family seems to operate under the delusion that my time is my own and therefore I'm always available to do their bidding. After all, I can work whenever I choose, right?

We have to be careful when attempting a solution to this problem, because it would be easy to give the false impression that we consider work more important than family. Yet solve it we must, or the continued needling will lead to growing resentment. Ideally, we need to accurately communicate how much of a loss we incur with each such interruption, and impress upon our Significant Other that, while we really do want to help them with their problems, a little courtesy, patience, and understanding could make that a lot less painful for both of us.

My wife thinks that's bull. How about your Significant Other?

About

Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

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