Monday, November 16, 2015

IT project success are Business success too, what about failures ?

It was pronounced a total disaster by the Sales Head in the management meeting; the teams were unable to use the solution that was launched with much fanfare and back slapping just a few months back. Usage reports indicated compliance of less than 20% from across the ranks with multiple reasons fighting for top position. Other CXOs backed the Sales Head in their vociferous chant about IT inability to meet business requirements. Everyone joined hands to blame the development vendor, unanimously agreeing that they should be fired.

The project was the culmination of work done by big name management consulting company along with the sales and marketing teams working in a cross functional team. The new CIO had joined the project mid-way through and followed the process to its conclusion. The project was handed over to an existing partner who had created the earlier version of the solution much against the wishes of the big name consulting partner who wanted to build the solution albeit at a budget 10 times larger than the incumbent software company.

Sales team had been using version 1.0 for some time with basic functionality and low cost device, a good starting point for the company. The IT team and the vendor worked hard to deploy the new system raising usage to 70% with some potholes and an uneven ride. The data captured served the initial purpose and the teams wanted to move up the value chain in customer engagement and market data capture. The Consultants engaged in other work with the Sales team coerced their way into the project to add value to the new process.

As the new specifications emerged the CIO was wary of the unwieldy system that emerged from the stables of management consulting. His views were brushed aside with pompousness that only big consultants know how to pull off, which they did especially when they did not get to build the system. They defined the Project governance and reporting with all the “best practices” that have never been collectively used putting significant overhead on the development team with challenged timelines that they had no choice but to accept.

The vendor CEO took the CIO into confidence wanting to abdicate but was cajoled into staying with a promise to make amends in the future. He knew that the Consultant would find many reasons to plot their downfall and the project had limited chance of success. Reluctantly he accepted putting his best team to work and treat the project as a learning of better coding standards, governance, and project management; he was painfully aware that declining the project would have shut the doors at this customer forever for his small company.

Struggling through the process, burning the team, the vendor delivered to the unreasonable timeline; the pilot was deployed with a small team who rejected the system as cumbersome and unusable. Sales highlighted many impractical processes which had been introduced by the Consultant despite protests. The vendor took the big list in his stride and worked to deliver knowing well that the cause was already lost but not giving up hope. On the other side the IT team attempted to manage perceptions while business winced at the lost opportunity.

The quarterly management meeting is when things came to a boil and blew the lid; fire the vendor appeared to be an appropriate redemption to the cause. The consultant fueled the fire with “If we had done it, the project would have worked” and “I told you so …” remarks. The business teams were not interested in the blame game, they wanted the project to work; they stressed a simpler process which can be easily executed on the field; they were not interested in the far-fetched analytics proposed by the Consultant.

Not accepting the fait accompli, the CIO stood up requesting permission to speak: The project started with flawed process design which was pushed through by the Consulting Company; which Consultant should be fired ? The business head and the business project lead accepted the large forms that found no traction with the field staff; which business lead or head should pay the penalty ? If we can decide on this, I will definitely fire not just the IT vendor, but also people from my team responsible for the fiasco; we all are responsible for where we are !

On hearing the episode, I wanted to nominate the CIO for all the possible leadership awards; may his breed multiply !

PS: Curious what happened in the end ? Wait for the next episode.

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