Friday, May 9, 2014

Putting the Most Important Things First

Twenty years ago today, on May 9, 1994, I had one of my greatest personal work-related triumphs.  It was a Monday, the day after Mother's Day.

For the past six months I had been leading a development team creating a completely new version of our company's software.  This particular application was my baby; I had designed it and had convinced the company that it was best way to handle a growing customer base and getting our clients off the old, buggy, single line-of-business software.

Not only had I designed it, but the company had even let me name this new product.  I was intimately familiar with all of its files, all of the code.  I had a great team working with me, and we clicked like a well-oiled machine.

On that day, we had installed the software at a major client's headquarters, as a Beta Test site.  We spent the day hand-holding the users, going from desk to desk, answering questions and giving pointers.  Sure, we had a few glitches, not the least of which was the discovery that the memory manager that I had designed was not up to the rigors of the abuse the clients were giving it.

But, all in all, it was a banner day, a day which I count among one of my greatest career achievements.

Around 7:30 that evening, we were exhausted.  The team was gathered in the server room, analyzing dumps and traces, trying to figure out how we were going to replace the memory manager.  We were laying out the schedule for the next day and handing out debugging, code-fixing, and hand-holding assignments.

Suddenly, the group leader's pager went off.  He looked at the number, expecting it to be a client, and he said, "BobR, I think your wife is trying to get in touch with you."  This was before cell phones were commonplace, and I wasn't at my desk, so she had paged my boss.

I called her and got the news I was expecting to hear.

Twenty years ago today, on May 9, 1994, my Dad ran his last race, fought his last fight, and drew his last breath.  He had finally lost a very short battle with a fast-spreading cancer.

For the previous six or so weeks, he had been in the hospital in Los Angeles, his life ebbing away.  I had had to make the painful decision not to fly out there from Kansas City until the end, knowing that when I had seen him just nine weeks earlier, it was going to be for the last time.

At that moment, the problems with the memory manager were flushed from my mind.  My boss told the team that we were done for the night, and we headed home.  The problems with the software would have to wait.

It is difficult to provide Winning Support when you are faced with a personal tragedy.  It is difficult to serve others when our own lives are in turmoil.

I learned a couple of important lessons that day.

First and foremost, your family comes first.  Period.

Yes, I truly believe that we are to serve our clients to our utmost, but we also have to consider our family as our most important client.

If your clients are more important to you than your family, I would suggest that you need to take a long, hard, serious look at your life.  Clients are important, jobs are vital, and work needs to go on, but clients and jobs will not be around forever.  Your family, on the other hand, should be your refuge, your place of respite, your primary responsibility.  Cherish those around you.

If you have a husband, wife, partner, brother, sister, son, daughter, father, mother, or any other close loved one, then put down the mouse, step back from the keyboard, and give them a call.  Better yet, go see them and give them a hug.

The second thing I learned is how important it is to have a good team around you.  Over the next day, I had to develop a work plan for the team, reassign all my work, bring a team member up to speed on the memory manager, get ready to fly across the country, design a headstone, and prepare a eulogy.  I had an awesome team and they all stepped in and supported me in my time of grief.  And the work got done without me.

If you are a one-person shop — if you are all alone in your position — do yourself a favor and find a friend.  Buddy up.  Cross train someone.  Do some pair programming.  Find someone who can help shoulder the burden when you need help.

Providing Winning Support is an endurance race, not a sprint.  Take care of yourself, take care of your family, and then take care of your clients.

You cannot serve others well — you cannot provide the type of Winning Support of which I know you are capable — if you aren't putting the most important things first.

Others stepped up to help me when I needed it, and I want to pay back that favor.

If you need some help, I'm here for you and will help in any way I can.  Feel free to leave comments below.  I would love to hear from you.  How may I serve you?

Let's start Winning Support.


  1. I want to publicly thank the Support Warriors who helped me that day. Roy Lambright, Tom Armstrong, Rob Allumbaugh, Mark Ritterbusch, Vikram Khanna, Steve Stava, and Sue Hicks ... it was an extreme pleasure to work with you on the EnCorr project. You all were amazing, and were the physical embodiment of Winning Support. All y'all rocked!

  2. This not only a good attitude for support-type work, but all work and all of life.

  3. Thanks for reading jabez it touched me deeply