Wednesday, May 27, 2015

What's happening in Yorktown?

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


Acme Corporation determined that updating their existing system to accommodate upcoming tax changes would be nearly as much work as implementing a new system. Because the new system also provided many other advantages, Acme decided to proceed with the new one.

The project was run in two locations: Since most of the sales functions were done in Yorktown, that location was to implement the Sales, Distribution, and Accounts Receivable modules.  The Smithville location, where procurement, manufacturing, and accounting were located, would implement the rest of the system. 

A project director, in charge of the entire project, was located in Smithville. In addition to her overall project responsibilities, she would run the Smithville part of the project.  A project manager was hired to run the Yorktown portion of the project.

The project needed to be done in six months to ensure adherence to the new tax rules.

Yorktown off the rails

In Smithville, the usual number and types of issues surfaced, but in general the work went well and the project was on track.

Each week, the project director had a phone call with the Yorktown project manager to review progress on that part of the project. The Yorktown project manager always sounded confident, and reported that everything was going well in Yorktown, with no significant issues impeding progress.

The project director was very surprised to receive a phone call from the Sales VP in Yorktown after about two months. The VP was very agitated, as she had expected to be attending design meetings to review preliminary set up by this time. However, the VP had not been able to obtain any information from the Yorktown project manager about when the work might be ready for her review.

Rescuing Yorktown

The project director went immediately to Yorktown to investigate. He discovered that there wasn't nearly as work much done as expected.

The project director had a serious problem; the system now had to be ready within four months instead of the planned six months, and there was almost no salvageable work completed.

He fired the Yorktown project manager, and replaced several of the contractors. Then he met with the VP and other key users. He outlined a plan to go-live by the time the tax changes had to be implemented. The key was to determine what functions were critical for the first day of operation of the new system. The users indicated that sales order entry, the logistics methods for their three largest customers, two major billing functions, and cash entry were critical and had to be done for go-live. The rest of the functions were ranked according to when they had to be used for the first time.


On the date the new tax law was in effect, the new system was live. Everything in Smithville was running. In Yorktown, the key go-live must-have items worked. There were no management reports, and no other non-key functions.

The remaining items were delivered over the next several weeks according to the ranking done by the users.

The users were relieved. They had been so worried that they would have no system available to run their business and fulfill the requirements of the new tax law.


Once the project director discovered the project was behind schedule, he quickly analyzed the problem and took steps to make sure the main elements of the project finished on time. The deadline could not be moved, due to the impending tax changes. Adding more resources would have been extremely difficult; he already had to get new consultants up to speed. So, the clear choice was to reduce the scope of the project to meet the deadline.

Unfortunately, it took too long for the project manager to find out that the Yorktown project was behind schedule and staffed with poor quality consultants.

The second location for implementation development should have been identified as a risk to the project. Then, the first step in risk mitigation should have been careful selection of the Yorktown project manager and the consultants. It would have been wise of the project director to spend more time on selection and maybe more money on more experienced resources.

The next risk mitigation strategy ought to have involved the development of the approach for Yorktown. It should have included small early deliverables, with appropriate business review and approval. This approach would have allowed the project director to assess the timeliness and quality of the work very early.

During the project, more rigorous reporting practices would have provided the project director a good view of progress. For example, the project director could have insisted that the assistant update the project schedule each week, showing progress on each task, and explaining any discrepancies.

The project director did solve the problem and the must-have components of the project were completed on time. However, earlier recognition of the risk and implementation of mitigation strategies may have allowed the entire project to be delivered on time, with less worry for the users in Yorktown.  

Copyright 2015 Debbie Gallagher