Monday, May 18, 2015

Oh no, an expert!

This is a true story. The company name has been changed.


In order to implement their new ERP system, Acme Corporation hired a well-known consulting firm, Standard Inc., to assist with the implementation.

Standard Inc.’s management determined that there was a gap in their expertise for one of the modules, and engaged a sub-contractor with expertise to work as part of their team.

The project manager observed that the sub-contractor was a domineering personality and realized it could cause difficulties for the project, but decided to hire him anyway in order to have the expertise on the team.

The situation

On the Acme project, the Standard Inc. expert sub-contractor was at the centre of nearly every problem that occurred. The Standard team and the sub-contractor had different standards for determining completion of each type of work, including even documentation. The sub-contractor also pushed aggressively for things to be done his way, due to his prior product knowledge.

The client team was very small and had to be scheduled carefully in order to ensure their ability to contribute to all parts of the implementation. However, the sub-contractor would announce schedule changes to the client that had the team spend more time on the expert’s module and less time on other work. These changes had not been approved by the project manager.

The Standard Inc. team found out that the sub-contractor was telling the client that any problems were the fault of the Standard Inc. consultants. The consultants felt the sub-contractor was trying to make himself look good to the client at their expense, in order to obtain more work for himself in the future.

In addition, Standard Inc. was doing the implementation work for a fixed fee, while the sub-contractor was being paid for his work by the hour. So, the sub-contractor was agreeing directly with the client to do extras, since he was getting paid for them. He was not discussing them with the project manager, prior to doing this extra work and billing for it. These extras were causing problems in managing the schedule and budget.

Action and outcome

The project manager discussed the problems with the sub-contractor, who agreed to stop attacking the Standard Inc. consultants and to stop changing the project schedule and adding extras without approval.

The project manager also worked hard at encouraging the client to stick with the project as scheduled, and not follow the sub-contractor’s last minute schedule changes unless approved by the project manager.

The sub-contractor ignored the project manager, continued to re-schedule as he wished, and also continued to attack the other consultants. The conflicts on the project worsened.

The implementation project did go live as planned. By this time, the sub-contractor and the Standard Inc. consultants were barely on speaking terms. Everyone was relieved to see the project end.

Some observations

It’s difficult to know whether it was a mistake to hire an expert who was such a poor team member. There are many who say that collaboration is just as important as expertise, and just as many who believe that the product expertise trumps all other considerations.

However, once the decision was made to hire the expert sub-contractor, there are a few things that could have been done differently in this situation:
·         Specify limits to authority in the expert’s contract, to make it clear to him the necessity of obtaining the project manager’s approval for changes.
·         Fix the scope and price of the expert’s work.
·         Clearly define the change process and expected behavior with the expert sub-contractor before the work starts, in an effort to reduce or eliminate problems before they start.

Copyright 2015 Debbie Gallagher