Sunday, 14 October 2007

Back to school

As part of my ongoing education in matters consulting, for the next five days I am on a residential course learning about Managing Successful Programmes (sounds a barrel of laughs, doesn't it?). Exam-success-dependent, I shall end up as a Managing Successful Programmes Practitioner (MSPP - though I would have been keener to do the course if they made the acronym something like MSP-ACE (Accredited Consultant Expert), or STRAPLINE (STRAtegic Practitioner of Leading INstitutional Evolution), or CATWOMAN* (one for you to try at home...).

Acronyms** aside (which incidentally from my past experience seems to be the central plank of any programme, project or initiative (that's PPI to those in the know)), I'd be keen to find out what these successful programmes are. I've never worked on a successful programme. I'd like to, but it's unlikely ever to happen. Organisations, at least the public sector organisations I find myself working in, tend not to employ consultants when everything is hunky-dory, as we cost too much and if it ain't broken, the last thing on anyone's mind is to make a change. Or to do anything. At all. On the other hand, if it's broken, call in the consultants, pay them for a while and then wind down the programme and Hey-Presto, we have a scapegoat. It's all part of the service.

So, having established that I'm never likely to see a programme which is successful, I'd better learn how to make unsuccessful programmes less broken. So, I'd actually like to be on a course that teaches me how to fix underperforming programmes. But I'm 'Here' now, so I'll get on with whatever's on the agenda.


'Here' is a Grade II listed manor house in Oxfordshire. The building is, from the outside, rather lovely. Having got as far as inside, I am now rather disturbed. One of my first observations was that I had to pass an initiative test just to find the (unsigned) reception. My second observation was that the reception appeared to be staffed by a giant genetic hybrid - half gnome, half squirrel. It made the process of checking in not quite as smooth as I would have liked.

'Here' has rather dated decor. The stuffed deer hanging precariously from a wall is a little out of keeping with current social tastes. However, in perfect keeping with the deer is that which passes for the bar, and which is lovingly entitled "The Gun Room". The main house is overwhelmed by dark, wooden interiors, and it parades that reassuringly authentic though rather offputting musty smell. Air conditioning has obviously not made it as far as 'Here'. And I'm convinced I'll stumble across a stuffed tiger at some point...

And then there was dinner. My starter, the Pink Duck Salad with Orange and Spinach did contain exactly that. And also croutons, which were fine. And chunks of parmesan, which was less so. However, it was the sweet chilli sauce which really killed it. The fish course appeared to have missed the attentions of the fillet knife. I spent most of the time trying to discreetly remove bits of haddock skeleton from between my teeth. I've found in the past that this is rarely the best way to ingratiate oneself with new acquaintances.

The steak, well... There's well done, there's medium, there's rare, there's raw, there's still chewing the cud, and then there's so rare I'm unsure whether its actually been born. I have a slight suspicion I may have been served up an uncooked bovine fetus. In an extremely uncharacteristic act of food squeamishness, I didn't eat very much of the 'steak'.

Dessert was to die for... I mean, it was good. Properly good. Rum-truffle-chocolate-mousse-with-gooey-lovely-clotted-cream-sort-of-good. Yum.

After dessert, I'm willing to recommend this place to anyone, provided they have no sense of smell and don't find infanticide on a plate too offputting... Now I'm off to discover the gym facilities. I may be some time in working off the chocolate mousse...

*Catwoman is on the mind at the moment. I have a half-colleague (same programme, different employers) who keeps suggesting I turn up to work in a Catwoman costume. I don't have a problem with this, as we both see it as a bit of a laugh, but following a conversation with another half-colleague who overheard, it seems that others find it unacceptable. Is it me - should this be a problem? Or are some people just desperate to stab this guy in the back and get him done for sexual harrassment??

**I wrote a paper a few months ago and had been careful to follow the rather precise house style of the organisation I was working in. Amongst other things, this included a requirement to write each acronym in full on the first appearance in the text, to include it in the table of acronyms and abbreviations and to use the acronym form on all subsequent occurrences. Having taken great pains to do this, I appeared to exasperate a reviewer (an employee of said organisation), who was no doubt very familiar with the house style. Following my introduction of "...the Transition Environmental Map (TEM)", she had written, "Why does everything need a TLA?" Not having previously come across the use of TLA in this organisation, I checked the corporate dictionary, glossary, acronym list and searched for other occurrences on the intranet. It didn't appear anywhere. It was only several days later that I recalled a previous use of TLA as the acronym for "Three Letter Acronym". The irony...


Casdok said...

Good luck with the exam, and that dessert sounds mmmmmmmmmmmmm!

Rach said...

I'm with Casdok, I will walk over hot coals for a dessert like that. Hope the rest of the trip goes well

Andrew F said...

Slightly recursive somehow, but how about Constructor of Autonomous Teams With Meaningful and Appropriate Nomenclature?

Do I win a prize?

Andrew F said...

Whoops. I meant 'Or', as that makes the acronym work.


But Why? said...

Thanks. After today's onslaught of information and minor mountain of 'homework', I think I might be in need of a bit of luck. The word 'Eeeeek' has figured rather highly in my thoughts today.

Perhaps I'd better not mention that lunch is two courses, including a yummy dessert? It's making all the 'homework' seem almost worthwhile, just so I can get another dessert. It's also making me very committed to getting to the gym in the morning and evening.

Good try, on both counts. Win a prize for being the first person to take up the challenge. (I may be being thick, but which word do you exchange for 'Or', or do you insert it between 'With' and 'Meaningful', which would make the acronym work, but lose any semblence of sense. (I think it's a measure of just how easy my life is that I have time to worry about such things.))

xxxx (That goes for all of you.)

Ms Melancholy said...

You ideally need a course on how to avoid the shit that is flying around by the time an organisation gets to the consultancy stage. Or is that just ducking?

BTW - strange retro surroundings and fantastic food? You didn't need to go away for that x

DJ Kirkby said...

You are hilarious! My mom orders her steak 'cooked' just like that! Loved the 'hey presto you've got a scapegoat' bit.

Pixie said...

Pudding... can we all have some... I just would love some choclate mousse right NOW!

But Why? said...

Ms M,
Yes. Ducking is an approved methodology for avoiding shit, and is usually the one relied upon, and the one which most certaintly leads to the procurement of some external types as turd targets. Well, on second thoughts, I don't need a course like the one you suggested, but my customers do. The only thing I would have against such courses is that they'd put me out of a job. And despite not enjoying the commuting and stressy bits of the job, I do rather like being gainfully employed. And I did enjoy your BTW, but I think the good food in anachronistic surroundings (they do actually have heating here) is a fringe benefit of the course, and not intended to be the main outcome.

I have a huge amount of respect for your mother if she can stomach, nay, enjoy steak which has been forever a stranger to a heat source. There's not much that's edible that I turn down (McD's not withstanding), but last night's fare was something else altogether. Still, as long as they don't plan to serve up scapegoat cooked to order, I should make it home in one piece.

I think I may be in pudding heaven, though, of course, if I had access to suitable tupperware and a fridge, I would be saving the puddings to share. Really. I mean that. Of course. Following this evening's lemon tart with more clotted cream and fruit compote, I need to go to the gym in the morning. Again. I can see a pattern beginning to emerge (a clotted cream, gym, clotted cream, gym, sort of pattern). I think this is why I am currently in agony following an intense period of reacquaintance with the ergometers in the gym.

Hugs 'n' Snogs all...