Saturday, May 16, 2015

The right stuff

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


Acme Corporation hired a project manager to plan and manage the implementation of an ERP software package, a well-known product by a leading vendor.

The project sponsor wanted the project staffed with internal resources, having consultants only in an advisory role. After assessing the work, the project manager recommended that eight company staff be assigned to the project full-time.

The project manager also gave the project sponsor guidance on selecting the eight resources and how to ensure they would be available to work on the project.

The right stuff

The project manager gave the sponsor a description of the type of individual that should be chosen for the implementation team.

Each team member should be highly motivated, with strong knowledge of her subject area and the company business processes.

Team members must be capable of thinking in abstract terms, willing and able to visualize new business processes, and resourceful.

In addition, the individuals must be team players, and the project work should fit with the team members’ career goals.

Back-filling jobs

The regular jobs done by these employees should be filled by internal transfers or temporary staff for the duration of the project. This back-filling would ensure that the employees assigned to the project team could focus on it full-time.

The Situation

It was obvious almost immediately that project work was not being completed on time and some tasks were not being done particularly well.

Timelines would soon start slipping and the project could be in danger of missing the first major milestone.

No back-fills

The project manager discovered that seven of the eight of the team members had been assigned to the project on an 80% basis, instead of full-time. In addition, their regular jobs in the company had not been back-filled. As a result, the team members were trying to do their project work and their regular work, with little success in each.

They were not able to commit even 80% to the project team. The most any of them was actually available was 60% and some were as low as 40% available.

The wrong stuff

In addition, it was evident that two inappropriate choices had been made in selecting members of the implementation team.

They were not the right type of person for the implementation team. They were good at their own jobs, but unable to think in abstract terms and visualize the required new business processes.

In addition, one of the two was a poor team player. She didn’t share information. She also frequently told other employees outside of the project that the company had made a big mistake and this project was never going to work out. However, she voiced no concerns to the project team, project manager, or sponsor.

Recommendation and response

What did the project manager do? The project manager knew that part-time resources are a common and very difficult problem to resolve. Part-time resources are always pulled back to their regular jobs for urgent work, unless someone else is filling that position.

The project manager met with the sponsor to review the problems with project staffing, and requested that the sponsor replace the two unsuitable team members. In addition, he asked that the regular jobs of all team members be back-filled, so they could concentrate on the project work.

The sponsor was not receptive to these suggestions, and decided not to change any team members or to back-fill their jobs.

The saga continued
The problem with lack of availability and lack of fit continued. The sponsor continued to make vague reassuring noises about the team members’ ability and commitment, but did not back-fill regular jobs and did not recognize the weaknesses in the team members that had been inappropriately assigned.

The outcome

Timelines slipped, and then project milestones were missed. Deadlines had to be moved out several times. After some of the milestones were missed, the sponsor still did not back-fill jobs or re-assign weak team members. Instead, consultants were brought in after all, to complete much of the work on the project.

The team members were exhausted long before the project was finished, due to their efforts to do two jobs at once. They also felt they were doing both jobs badly instead of doing one job well, which contributed to morale problems on the team.

The project finished in fourteen months instead of the planned ten months. Costs were higher than intended, due to the extended timeline and additional consulting fees.

The team did make good decisions regarding implementation of the software and the new business processes. The company realized the expected benefits from the software purchase.

However, the perception throughout the company was that the project was a failure before it was even half completed. A large internal marketing effort was needed to overcome the corporate lack of enthusiasm for the new system and processes.


It is critical to the success of the project that each team member is the right person for the job.

In addition, those team members must be available to fulfill their time commitment to the project. Back-filling their regular jobs for the duration of the project allows the team members to concentrate on the project work.

Copyright 2015 Debbie Gallagher