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It was full steam ahead on the Green project

Project Management at MM

“We’ve got a real ‘warm puppy’ here,” Brian Smith told
Werner McCann. “Make sure you make the most of it. We could use a winner.
“Smith was MM’s CIO, and McCann was his top project manager. The puppy in
question was Mm’s new venture into direct-to-customer marketing of its green
meters, a product designed to help better manage electrical consumption, and the
term referred to the project’s wide appeal. The strategy had been a hit with
analysts ever since it had been revealed to the financial community, and the
company’s stock was doing extremely well as a result. “At last,” one had
written in his popular newsletter, “we have a company that is willing to put
power literally and figuratively in consumers’ hands. If MM can deliver on its
promises, we fully expect this company to reap the rewards. “Needless to say,
the Green project was popular internally, too. “I’m giving it to you because you
have the most project-management experience we’ve got,” Smith had said.
“There’s a lot riding on this one.” As he walked away from Smith’s office,
McCann wasn’t sure whether to feel complimented or terrified. He had certainly
managed some successful projects for the company (previously known as Mod Meters)
over the past five years but never anything like this one. That’s the problem
with project management, he thought. In IT almost every project is completely
different. Experience only takes you part of the way. And Green was different.
It was the first truly enterprise wide project the company had ever done, and
McCann was having conniptions as he thought about telling Fred Tompkins, the
powerful head of manufacturing, that he might not able to have everything his
own way. McCann knew that, to be successful, this project had to take an
outside-in approach—that is, to take the end customers’ point of view on the
company. That meant integrating marketing, ordering, manufacturing, shipping
and service into one seamless process that wouldn’t bounce the customer from
one department to another in the company. MM had always had separate systems
for each of its “silos,” and this project would work against the company’s
traditional culture and processes. The Green project was also going to have to
integrate with IT’s information management renewal (IMR) project. Separate silos
had always meant separate databases, and the IMR project was supposed to
resolve inconsistencies among them and provide accurate and integrated
information to different parts of the company. This was a huge political
challenge, but, unless it worked, McCann couldn’t deliver on his mandate. Then
there was the issue of resources. McCann groaned at the thought. MM had some
good people but not enough to get through all of the projects in the IT plan
within the promised timelines. Because of the importance of the Green project,
he knew he’d get good cooperation on staffing, but the fact remained that he
would have to go outside for some of the technical skills he needed to get the
job done. Finally, there was the schedule that had to be met. Somehow, during the
preliminary assessment phase, it had become clear that September 5 was to be
the “hard launch” date. There were good reasons for this—the fall was when
consumers usually became concerned with their energy consumption—but McCann worried
that a date barely twelve months from now would put too much pressure on his
team. “We’ve got to get in there first, before the competition,” Smith had said
to him. “The board expects us to deliver. You’ve got my backing and the support
of the full executive team, but you have to deliver this one.
Six Weeks Later
It was full steam
ahead on the Green project. It’s amazing what a board mandate and executive
sponsorship can do for a project, thought McCann, who knew how hard it usually
was to get business attention to IT initiatives. He now had a full-time
business counterpart, Raj Sambamurthy. Samba, as he was known to his colleagues,
had come out of Tompkins’s division and was doing a fantastic job of getting
the right people in the room to make the decisions they needed to move ahead.
The Green steering committee was no Mickey Mouse group either. Smith, Tompkins,
and every VP affected by the project were meeting biweekly with him and Samba to
review every aspect of the project’s progress. McCann had pulled no punches
when communicating with the committee. “You’ve given me the mandate and the
budget to get this project off the ground,” he had told them. “But we have to
be clear about what we’re trying to accomplish.” Together, they had hammered
out a value proposition that emphasized the strategic value of the project and
some of the measures they would use to monitor its ultimate success. The
requirements and design phase had also gone smoothly because everyone was so
motivated to ensure the project’s success. “Linking success to all our annual
bonuses sure helped that! ”McCann had remarked wryly to Samba. Now McCann was
beginning to pull together his dream team of implementers. The team had chosen
a package known as Web-4-U as the frontend of the project, but it would take a
lot of work to customize it to suit their unique product and, even more, to
integrate it with MM’s outmoded back-end systems. The Web-4-U company was based
in Ireland but had promised to provide 24/7 consulting on an as-needed basis.
In addition, Samba had now assembled a small team of business analysts to work
on the business processes they would need. They were working out of the firm’s Cloverdale
office, a thirty-minute drive from IT’s downtown location. (It was a shame they
couldn’t all be together, but space was at a premium at headquarters. McCann
made a mental note to look into some new collaboration software he’d heard
about.)Now that these two pieces were in place, McCann felt free to focus on
the technical “guts” of the sys-tem. “Maybe this will work out after all,” he
Three Months to Launch
Date By June,
however, McCann was tearing out what little hair was left on his head. He was
seriously considering moving to a remote Peruvian hamlet and breeding llamas. “Anything
would be better than this mess,” he observed to Yung Lee, the senior IT architects,
over coffee. They were pouring over the project’s critical path. “The way I see
it,” Lee stated matter-of-factly, “we have two choices: We can continue with
this inferior technology and meet our deadline but not deliver on our functionality,
or we can redo the plan and go back to the steering committee with a revised
delivery date and budget. “McCann sighed. Techies always saw things in black
and white, but his world contained much grayer. And so much was riding on
this—credibility (his, IT’s, the company’s), competitive-ness, stock price. He
dreaded being the bearer of this bad news, so he said, “Let’s go over this one
more time. “It’s not going to get any better, but here goes.” Lee took a deep
breath. “Web-4-U is based on outmoded technology. It was the best available
last year, but this year the industry has agreed on a new standard, and if we persist
in using Web-4-U, we are going to be out of date before Green even hits the
street. We need to go back and completely rethink our technical approach based
on the new standard and then redesign our Web interface. I know it’s a setback
and expensive, but it has to be done. ”How come we didn’t know about this earlier?”
McCann demanded. Lee replied, “When the standard was announced, we didn’t
realize what the implications were at first. It was only in our quarterly
architecture meeting that the subject came up. That’s why I’m here now.” The
architects were a breed apart, thought McCann. All tech and no business sense.
They’d lost almost three months because of this. “By the way,” Lee
concluded,“Web-4-U knew about this, too. They’re scram- bling to rewrite their
code. I guess they figured if you didn’t know right away, there would be more
chance of you sticking with them. “The chances of that are slim to none,
thought McCann. His next software provider, whoever that was, was going to be
sitting right here under his steely gaze. Seeing an agitated Wendy Chan at his
door, he brought the meeting to a hasty close. “I’m going to have to discuss this
with Brian,” he told Lee. “We can’t surprise him with this at the steering
committee meeting. Hang tight for a couple of days, and I’ll get back to you.“OK,”
said Lee, “but remember that we’re wasting time. “Easy for you to say, thought
McCann as he gestured Chan into his office. She was his counter-part at the IMR
project, and they had always had a good working relationship. “I just wanted to
give you a heads-up that we’ve got a serious problem at IMR that will affect
you,” she began. Llamas began prancing into his mind’s eye. “Tompkins is refusing
to switch to our new data dictionary. We’ve spent months hammering this out
with the team, but he says he wasn’t kept informed about the implications of
the changes, and now he’s refusing to play ball. I don’t know how he could say that.
He’s had a rep on the team from the beginning, and we’ve been sending him
regular progress reports. “McCann was copied on those reports. Their pages of
techno-jargon would put anyone to sleep! He was sure that Tompkins had never
got past the first page of any of those reports. His rep was adweeb, too,
someone Tompkins thought he could live without in his daily operations. “Damn!
This is something I don’t need.” Like all IT guys, McCann hated corporate
politics with a passion. He didn’t understand them and wasn’t good at them. Why
hadn’t Samba and his team picked up on this? They were plugged into the
business. Now he was going to have to deal with Chan’s problem as well as his
own if he wanted to get the Green project going. Their back-end processes
wouldn’t work at all unless everyone was using the same information in the same
for-mat. Why couldn’t Tompkins see that? Did he want the Green project to fail?
“The best way to deal with this one, “advised Chan, “is to force him to accept these
changes. Go to John Johnson and tell him that you need Tompkins to change his
business processes to fit our data dictionary. It’s for the good of the company,
after all.” Chan’s strong suit wasn’t her political savvy. “You’re right that
we need Tompkins on outside,” said McCann, “but there may be a better way. Let
me talk to Samba. He’s got his ear to the ground in the business. I’ll speak
with him and get back to you. “After a bit of chitchat, Wendy Chan left McCann
to his PERT chart, trying again to deter- mine the extra cost in time if they
went with the new technology. Just then the phone rang. It was Linda Perkins,
McCann’s newly hired work-at-home usability designer. She was one of the best
in the business, and he was lucky to have snagged her just coming off maternity
leave. His promise of flexible working hours and full benefits had lured her
back to work two months before her year-long leave ended. “You’ve got to do
some-thing about your HR department!” Perkins announced. “They’ve just told me
that I’m not eligible for health and dental benefits because I don’t work on
the premises! Furthermore, they want to classify me as contingent staff, not
mana gerial, because I don’t fit in one of their petty little categories for
employees. You promised me that you had covered all this before I took the job!
I gave up a good job at Life Co so I could work from home. “McCann had indeed
covered this issue in principle with Rick Morrow, IT’s HR representative, but
that had been almost eight months ago. McCann had indeed covered this issue in principle
with Rick Morrow, IT’s HR representative, but that had been almost eight months
ago. Morrow had since left the firm. McCann wondered if he had left any
paperwork on this matter. The HR IT spot had not yet been filled, and all of
the IT managers were upset about HR’s unreceptive attitude when it came to
adapting its policies to the realities of today’s IT world. “OK, Linda, just hang
in there for a day or two and I’ll get this all sorted out,” he promised.
“How’s the usability testing coming along? “That’s another thing I wanted to
talk with you about. The team’s making changes to the look and feel of the
product without consulting me, “she fumed. “I can’t do my job without being in
the loop. You have to make them tell me when they ‘redoing things like this.
“McCann sighed. Getting Perkins on the project had been such a coup that he
hadn’t given much thought to how the lines of communication would work within
such a large team. “I hear you, Linda, and we’ll work this out. Can you just
give me a few days to figure out how we can improve things? “Hanging up, he
grabbed his jacket and slunk out of the office as quickly as he could before
any other problems could present themselves. If he just kept walking south,
he’d make it to the Andes in three, maybe four, months. He could teach himself
Spanish along the way. At least the llamas would appreciate his efforts! MM
could take its project and give it to some other. Poor schmuck. No way was he
going back! He walked furiously down the street, mentally ticking off the
reasons he had been a fool to fall for Smith’s sweet talk. Then, unbidden, a
plan of attack formed in his head. Walking always did the trick. Getting out of
the office cleared his head and focused his priorities. He turned back the way
he had come, now eager to get back in the fray. He had some things to do right
away, and others he had to put in place ASAP.

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