Pilot fish is hired by a small company that does work for a larger IT vendor. And right away, she's assigned to be the contact person dealing with this vendor on a job that's already in progress.

"The job? The originating customer wanted a new data feed for their new system," fish says. "But there was a caveat (drum roll, please): The vendor's rep could not tell me the name of the company, what kind of data was to be used, or what the output would be.

"I had to figure out the right questions to ask in order to get details."

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So when a data tape for the project arrives, no one knows what the layout of the tape is — or what the customer wants done. It takes several days before fish finally determines that the job involves reformatting customer data.

Fish discovers something else: The vendor rep refuses to provide any information that fish hasn't specifically asked for. Period.

That's why, for the next eight 80-hour weeks, fish practically lives in her cube to get the work done. And the day after the reformatted data tapes are delivered to the vendor, she's called into a teleconference in which the vendor's rep screams that the tapes have the wrong setup and include duplicate data.

"My manager's initial reaction was to turn on me for not setting things up correctly," says fish. "I kept my mouth shut, listening to the vendor's tirade, until she finally hung herself: The data didn't fit properly on the screens for which it was designed.

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"'This was for an online system?' I asked incredulously. 'Are there screenshots?' Dead silence. 'Why didn't you tell me this was being designed for an online system?' A bit of sputtering, then she actually said, 'Well, you should have asked me that!'"

Knowing the client is on the other end of the line, fish very calmly points out that she can't ask for something for which she hasn't even been given a hint — and the rep gave no indication that this was an online system.

When the vendor rep howls about fish's six-more-weeks estimate to redesign, test and deliver the work, fish responds that it would have been done already if the rep had provided all the necessary information in the first place.

And fish tells the rep that the six-week estimate is only guaranteed if she provides all the necessary information for fish to do the job correctly, including screenshots and exact data layout. If the rep leaves anything out, all bets are off.

"Six weeks later, the client had exactly what they wanted," says fish.

"And needless to say, all future meetings with this vendor ended with the question, 'Is that everything?'"

Sharky wants to know everything about your true tale of IT life. Send it to me at sharky@computerworld.com. You'll get a stylish Shark shirt if I use it. Comment on today's tale at Sharky's Google+ community, and read thousands of great old tales in the Sharkives.

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