Monday, November 23, 2015

IT project success are Business success too, turning around failures – Part 2

No one expected the CIO to stand up to the big name Consultant and other CXOs who wanted to fire the IT vendor for a disastrous outcome; but he did and also raised some relevant points which do not get asked in such situations. 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 ?

There was an uneasy silence which demanded answers from the assembled group of leaders; the Senior Vice President of Sales and President of the business were shocked beyond words. How dare anyone raise a finger in their direction ? Had the CIO crossed the boundaries of acceptable behavior ? IT was and is expected to translate business requirements into a system that the business can use. They can suggest improvements to process but are not expected to challenge business supremacy in an open forum. All heads turned towards the CEO.

The CEO faced a dilemma, he could chastise the CIO for his remarks and enforce a decision to revoke the earlier development contract and give the reins to the Consulting Company to deliver what they had designed and promised. His other choice could have been to give the development partner another opportunity to redeem themselves, after all it was a business project and there was some merit in what the CIO said. He was tech savvy and aware that success would have had business and the Consultant patting each other’s back; the vendor was a convenient scapegoat.

Without defending the business, Consultant or the CIO, as a matter of fact he asked the CIO, “As a business leader, what do you recommend as the course of action” ? The CIO had been hired to change IT performance and improve levels of engagement with the globally spread business; the CIO had high pedigree and was a prize catch. The CEO did not ask others since they had proclaimed their verdict and delivered the judgement; the trail in absentia had unanimously declared the defendant guilty. The CEO knew his team and was a fair man.

The CIO outlined the plan to salvage the situation with meticulously charted steps, actions, roles and responsibilities across the project team. He sought absolute control over the process and metrics with a tight deadline to deliver the desired functionality in phases. He had done his groundwork with the field staff and the vendor to understand what would practically work within the operating environment and constraints in which they lived. He had also reviewed the technology stack to assess if the vendor had put in the best effort possible.

It appeared to be the best way forward without shedding any blood, answering the uncomfortable questions, or disgrace anyone. A compromise for the business who would have loved to hang the CIO and the vendor, they reluctantly accepted the verdict from the CEO who accepted the plan. The CIO on his part volunteered to forego his variable pay should the project not deliver as he had promised, which satiated the team as an acceptable bargain. The CIO wagered for other CXOs present to match the stakes, which none did.

Leadership is about many traits, some of them being – to lead from the front, walk the talk, take risks, and take your team along in adverse situations. The IT vendor was apprehensive of the solution and also experienced adrenalin rush at the dangerous move. He conceded control to the CIO who put his more than two decades of experience behind the project, driving the team in high energy mode for the next four weeks. The sales team matched the rigor with the development team frequenting the field to collaboratively engage with their customers.

Success cannot be denied to the possessed and the driven; the CIO and the project team were razor focused on the outcomes. The solution emerged from the shadows and made the grade step by step across layers and geographies; news of success floated in from all quarters across the entire user workforce. They loved the simplicity and the ease of use which was defined with their inputs casting aside the complexity imposed by global best practice models proposed earlier; they had a first in the industry and everyone loved it.

In the next management meeting the CEO asked the group the learning in the unprecedented success !

And that is another story for next time !

Link to Part 1


  1. Very well written, Arun. There are learnings from the conduct of both the CIO and the CEO who dealt with the difficult situation very well.