Project Management at MM2
â€œWeâ€™ve got a real â€˜warm puppyâ€™ here,â€ Brian Smith told Werner McCann. â€œMake sure you make the most of it. We could use a winner.â€
Smith was MMâ€™s CIO, and McCann was his top project manager. The puppy in question was MMâ€™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 projectâ€™s wide appeal. The strategy had been a hit with analysts ever since it had been revealed to the financial community, and the companyâ€™s stock was doing extremely well as a result. â€œAt last,â€ one had written in his popular newsletter, â€œwe have a com- pany that is willing to put power literally and figuratively in consumersâ€™ hands. If MM can deliver on its promises, we fully expect this company to reap the rewards.â€
Needless to say, the Green project was popular internally, too. â€œIâ€™m giving it to you because you have the most project-management experience weâ€™ve got,â€ Smith had said. â€œThereâ€™s a lot riding on this one.â€ As he walked away from Smithâ€™s office, McCann wasnâ€™t sure whether to feel complimented or terrified. He had certainly managed some success- ful projects for the company (previously known as ModMeters) over the past five years but never anything like this one. Thatâ€™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 enterprisewide project the com- pany had ever done, and McCann was having conniptions as he thought about telling Fred Tompkins, the powerful head of manufacturing, that he might not be able to have everything his own way. McCann knew that, to be successful, this project had to take an outside-in approachâ€”that is, to take the end customersâ€™ point of view on the company. That meant integrating marketing, ordering, manufacturing, shipping, and service into one seamless process that wouldnâ€™t bounce the customer from one department to another in the company. MM had always had separate systems for each of its â€œsilos,â€ and this project would work against the companyâ€™s traditional culture and processes. The Green project was also going to have to integrate with ITâ€™s information manage- ment 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 couldnâ€™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 heâ€™d get good cooperation on staffing, but the fact remained that he would have to go out- side 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
2 Smith, H. A., and J. D. McKeen. â€œProject Management at MM.â€ #1-L05-1-009, Queenâ€™s School of Business, November 2005. Reproduced by permission of Queenâ€™s University, School of Business, Kingston, Ontario.
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had become clear that September 5 was to be the â€œhard launchâ€ date. There were good reasons for thisâ€”the fall was when consumers usually became concerned with their energy consumptionâ€”but McCann worried that a date barely twelve months from now would put too much pressure on his team. â€œWeâ€™ve got to get in there first, before the competition,â€ Smith had said to him. â€œThe board expects us to deliver. Youâ€™ve got my backing and the support of the full executive team, but you have to deliver this one.â€
Six WeekS LateR
It was full steam ahead on the Green project. Itâ€™s amazing what a board mandate and executive sponsorship can do for a project, thought McCann, who knew how hard it usu- ally was to get business attention to IT initiatives. He now had a full-time business coun- terpart, Raj Sambamurthy. Samba, as he was known to his colleagues, had come out of Tompkinsâ€™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 projectâ€™s progress.
McCann had pulled no punches when communicating with the committee. â€œYouâ€™ve given me the mandate and the budget to get this project off the ground,â€ he had told them. â€œBut we have to be clear about what weâ€™re trying to accomplish.â€ 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 moti- vated to ensure the projectâ€™s success. â€œLinking success to all our annual bonuses sure helped that!â€ 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 front end 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 MMâ€™s outmoded back-end systems. The Web-4-U company was based in Ireland but had promised to provide 24/7 consultation 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 firmâ€™s Cloverdale office, a thirty-minute drive from ITâ€™s downtown location. (It was a shame they couldnâ€™t all be together, but space was at a premium at headquarters. McCann made a mental note to look into some new collaboration software heâ€™d heard about.) Now that these two pieces were in place, McCann felt free to focus on the technical â€œgutsâ€ of the sys- tem. â€œMaybe this will work out after all,â€ he said.
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. â€œAnything would be better than this mess,â€ he told Yung Lee, the senior IT architect, over coffee. They were poring over the projectâ€™s critical path. â€œThe way I see it,â€ Lee stated matter-of-factly, â€œwe have two choices: We can continue with this inferior tech- nology 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.â€
326 Section IV â€¢ IT Portfolio Development and Management
McCann sighed. Techies always saw things in black and white, but his world contained much more gray. And so much was riding on thisâ€”credibility (his, ITâ€™s, the companyâ€™s), competitiveness, and stock price. He dreaded being the bearer of this bad news, so he said, â€œLetâ€™s go over this one more time.â€
â€œItâ€™s not going to get any better, but here goes.â€ Lee took a deep breath. â€œWeb-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 com- pletely rethink our technical approach based on the new standard and then redesign our Web interface. I know itâ€™s a setback and expensive, but it has to be done.â€
â€œHow come we didnâ€™t know about this earlier?â€ McCann demanded.
Lee replied, â€œWhen the standard was announced, we didnâ€™t realize what the implications were at first. It was only in our quarterly architecture meeting that the subject came up. Thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m here now.â€ The architects were a breed apart, thought McCann. All tech and no business sense. Theyâ€™d lost almost three months because of this. â€œBy the way,â€ Lee concluded, â€œWeb-4-U knew about this, too. Theyâ€™re scrambling to rewrite their code. I guess they figured if you didnâ€™t know right away, there would be more chance of you sticking with them.â€
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. â€œIâ€™m going to have to discuss this with Brian,â€ he told Lee. â€œWe canâ€™t surprise him with this at the steering committee meeting. Hang tight for a couple of days, and Iâ€™ll get back to you.â€
â€œOK,â€ said Lee, â€œbut remember that weâ€™re wasting time.â€
Easy for you to say, thought McCann as he gestured Chan into his office. She was his counterpart at the IMR project, and they had always had a good working relationship. â€œI just wanted to give you a heads-up that weâ€™ve got a serious problem at IMR that will affect you,â€ she began. Llamas began prancing into his mindâ€™s eye. â€œTompkins is refus- ing to switch to our new data dictionary. Weâ€™ve spent months hammering this out with the team, but he says he wasnâ€™t kept informed about the implications of the changes, and now heâ€™s refusing to play ball. I donâ€™t know how he could say that. Heâ€™s had a rep on the team from the beginning, and weâ€™ve been sending him regular progress reports.â€
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 a dweeb, too, someone Tompkins thought he could live with- out in his daily operations.
â€œDamn! This is something I donâ€™t need.â€ Like all IT guys, McCann hated corpo- rate politics with a passion. He didnâ€™t understand them and wasnâ€™t good at them. Why hadnâ€™t Samba and his team picked up on this? They were plugged into the business. Now he was going to have to deal with Chanâ€™s problem as well as his own if he wanted to get the Green project going. Their back-end processes wouldnâ€™t work at all unless everyone was using the same information in the same format. Why couldnâ€™t Tompkins see that? Did he want the Green project to fail?
â€œThe best way to deal with this one,â€ advised Chan, â€œis 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. Itâ€™s for the good of the company, after all.â€ Chanâ€™s strong suit wasnâ€™t her political savvy.
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â€œYouâ€™re right that we need Tompkins on our side,â€ said McCann, â€œbut there may be a better way. Let me talk to Samba. Heâ€™s got his ear to the ground in the business. Iâ€™ll speak with him and get back to you.â€
After a bit of chitchat, Wendy Chan left McCann to his PERT chart, trying again to determine the extra cost in time if they went with the new technology. Just then the phone rang. It was Linda Perkins, McCannâ€™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. â€œYouâ€™ve got to do something about your HR department!â€ Perkins announced. â€œTheyâ€™ve just told me that Iâ€™m not eligible for health and dental benefits because I donâ€™t work on the prem- ises! Furthermore, they want to classify me as contingent staff, not managerial, because I donâ€™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 LifeCo so I could work from home.â€
McCann had indeed covered this issue in principle with Rick Morrow, ITâ€™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 HRâ€™s unreceptive attitude when it came to adapting its policies to the realities of todayâ€™s IT world. â€œOK, Linda, just hang in there for a day or two and Iâ€™ll get this all sorted out,â€ he promised. â€œHowâ€™s the usability testing coming along?â€
â€œThatâ€™s another thing I wanted to talk with you about. The teamâ€™s making changes to the look and feel of the product without consulting me,â€ she fumed. â€œI canâ€™t do my job without being in the loop. You have to make them tell me when theyâ€™re doing things like this.â€
McCann sighed. Getting Perkins on the project had been such a coup that he hadnâ€™t given much thought to how the lines of communication would work within such a large team. â€œI hear you, Linda, and weâ€™ll work this out. Can you just give me a few days to figure out how we can improve things?â€
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, heâ€™d make it to the Andes in three, maybe four, months. He could teach him- self 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 Smithâ€™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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