Wednesday, May 20, 2015

They're never quite ready

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


The project to implement Acme Corporation’s new warehouse management system was scheduled to take four months.  

At the outset, the project manager heard that the Acme Corporation had a history of trying to implement systems, getting them substantially completed, but then not going live on the new system.  Most recently, a sales order project had run for several months, achieved 99 percent completion, and four years later was still not live due to some small outstanding technical items.

The Situation

For the current warehouse management project, Acme’s IT department was to do the technical set up of the new server, and upgrade of mobile devices. The IT team was enthusiastic about what they had learned at the vendor’s training sessions, but when they returned to Acme their progress on the technical set up was noticeably slow.

The project manager also observed that the other employees on the project had little confidence in the IT team. Technical support, including help desk, was available until only mid-afternoon daily, and was slow to respond to problems. As a result, most employees felt that company systems were unstable and interfered with getting their work done.

Follow up with the IT team

The project manager met with the IT team, who assured him that they were going to get their work done. However, the work continued to slip, and the project manager escalated to the project sponsor.

The sponsor assured the project manager that the IT team would prioritize the warehouse management project work, and get caught up. However, due dates for technical set up of the new system continued to be missed, then the due date for go-live was missed.

The project manager suggested that an outside consultant be brought in to complete the technical work.  The sponsor agreed the consultant could be hired, but wanted Acme’s IT team to use this outside expertise as a training opportunity, and do as much of the work as possible themselves, under the supervision of the  consultant. Unfortunately,  Acme’s IT team was not comfortable doing this work, and participated very little, leaving the consultant to perform most of the set up. When the consultant left, there were only a few technical items to be completed.

Acme’s IT team did not have the last part of the work ready on time for the next month, and the go-live date slipped another month.

Again, the project steering committee assured the project manager that the IT team would get the job done. Again, progress was made, but as the next month approached, there were still some technical items that had not been completed.

Let’s go live

The project manager reviewed the outstanding items with the project team and determined that it was possible to go live without the remaining technical items. The outstanding items would cause some inconvenience, but the problems should be workable.

The project steering committee accepted the project manager’s recommendation that the system should go-live, two months late and 99 percent complete.


The Acme Corporation was satisfied with the implementation of the warehouse management system. It came in under budget because the costs had been over estimated. In addition, since Acme had so many failed implementations in its past, two months late on a four month project was an improvement over what they were used to.

Although Acme was satisfied, there is a lesson for the project manager. He did not recognize a significant project risk when he heard Acme’s history of inability to implement systems even when they were substantially, even as much as 99 percent, complete. If the project manager had probed further, he may have discovered right from the beginning that Acme’s IT department was weak and unlikely to complete their tasks.

Realizing the IT weakness in the company would have allowed the project manager to plan and make recommendations to the sponsor to prevent the problems instead of solving them later in the project.

In order to raise the IT team’s comfort with the technical work to be done and make the technical training environment more realistic, perhaps the vendor’s technical training could have been done at Acme instead of at the vendor. Another possibility may have been to have the training customized to provide more hands-on rather than classroom training. Alternatively, Acme could have planned for the technical consultant to do the technical work on the project, without trying to have the Acme IT department involved in the set up of the new system.

Unfortunately, when the project manager heard the previous disaster stories, he did not recognize the risk they implied for the current project.

Copyright 2015 Debbie Gallagher