Saturday, May 30, 2015

Project going well? How to break it

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


Acme Corporation had a six-month project under way to implement a new Logistics system. In order to streamline and to take advantage of the new system’s features, the business processes were being reviewed and modified as part of the implementation.

On the project team, the business was represented by the Logistics Manager and two supervisors from her department. These team members were very good choices. The manager, who was acting as an adviser with a significant time commitment, was experienced and knew the organization and its needs well. Both supervisors were power users, with good problem solving skills, as well as in-depth knowledge of the current system and department practices. They were the hands-on active participants on the team.

The first three months of the implementation of Logistics went very well, with no unusual problems.

The takeover

Then, Acme started planning the takeover of a competitor. The project sponsor needed the Logistics manager to assist in evaluation of the target company’s operations, so she removed the Logistics Manager from the project. The sponsor also announced that she really wouldn't have time to continue her project sponsor role.

The project manager urged the sponsor to provide a new adviser and new sponsor to the project. When that was denied, he asked for the project to be delayed or paused during the takeover.

However, the sponsor had been impressed with the progress to date on the Logistics project. The team seemed to be doing very well, and replacing the manager was not a priority. The sponsor also felt that the essential team members were the two supervisors, as they were the doers on the team.

The takeover would require many company resources, and the sponsor couldn't see the point in keeping unnecessary resources on a project that was doing just fine.

The manager and the project sponsor were unavailable to the team for the remaining three months of the project, in order to work on the takeover planning, and the resulting acquisition.

The outcome

The implementation team managed to finish the project on time and on budget without the manager, and without any further input from the project sponsor.

When the new system went live, the users in Logistics were very pleased with the results. The new business processes were easily put into practice, and the new system provided much needed functionality for the department.

The project manager heard from the project sponsor after go-live on the new Logistics system. The sponsor was very upset, as she had been receiving calls from irate plant managers. Several of the reports used in the plants no longer provided the level of detail they used to.

Investigation determined that the design and configuration of the Logistics module had eliminated the detail that the plant managers had relied on in their reports. Several of the reports were essential to plant operations.

Re-work of some business processes and system design decisions began immediately and took two and a half months to complete.

Some of the updated business processes were awkward, due to the difficulty of retrofitting an already-configured system. As a result, the anticipated benefit from re-designed business processes was not fully realized.


The loss of the Logistics Manager had been significant, as she had been knowledgeable about the needs of the organization outside of the Logistics department. Without her, the plant managers’ reporting requirements had been neglected. In addition, the lack of project sponsorship during the same time meant that there was no high level review of the decisions being made by the team.

Management commitment is critical to a successful project. The sponsor’s first mistaken assumption was that the project would continue to succeed without her commitment and without her supporting the manager’s time spent on the project.

The sponsor’s second incorrect assumption was that the doers were the only important team members, and that the team could do without the adviser and the involvement of the sponsor.

Unfortunately, the sponsor made a third mistake. She assumed that since the project was already going well, that it would continue to do well without key resources. These were incorrect assumptions.

Copyright 2015 Debbie Gallagher