Monday, June 15, 2015

Head in the sand

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

The data conversion

Acme Corporation was a retailer based in Canada and in France. They were replacing the separate Canadian and French systems with one common system, including financial as well as sales and distribution modules.

Early in the project, a software developer in France was assigned to design and create data conversion programs to load data from the two old systems into the new system. The developer was familiar with the French legacy system but not familiar with the Canadian system or the new system. The developer’s experience with the French legacy system provided her with some knowledge of the business and its system requirements. However, she had always worked for a supervisor or project manager, and did not have any experience at managing work.

Several members of the project team expressed their concerns to the project manager. Surely the one developer would not have time to plan and develop all of the programs needed to convert data from both legacy systems. The project manager was not worried, as the developer had always got assigned tasks done in the past.

After several weeks, there was no visible action from the developer, and the project manager was still unconcerned, so a couple of team leads on the project decided to try and move things along. The Purchasing/Accounts Payable team lead called a meeting to discuss data conversion requirements for vendor master and purchase orders. The Sales/Accounts Receivable team lead called a meeting to discuss conversion requirements for sales orders, pricing, and customer master.

The developer took some notes at these meetings and said she was going to start coding extracts from the French legacy system. She did not provide any confirmation to the team members about what would be delivered. In addition, she spent no time working on extraction of data from the Canadian system.

The team leads continued to press the project manager for answers about how the data conversion was going to get done with only one resource. After a few more weeks, the project manager assigned a second developer to write the data conversion programs for the Canadian data. The two developers had no shared design to ensure that the separate work done for the two legacy systems would have similar results in the new system.

The team leads kept voicing their concerns to the project manager, that the data conversion was not well planned, that there might not be consistency in the data from the two countries and that the programs might not be done on time. The project manager saw no need for the developers to stop their work to do some planning.

At the project status meetings, it became clear that the team leads and the developers had different ideas about what was to be delivered. As a result, additional meetings were held and the programmers took notes on additional files to be converted.

When data was loaded into the new system for testing, the team members were shocked at how many fields were missing or incorrect. The team leads again approached the project manager with their concerns about the data conversion and whether it would be on time and of acceptable quality.

The project manager still thought it didn’t make sense to stop and coordinate efforts between the two countries or to create a schedule at this late date. He decided that the developers were too busy working to take time out for planning.

The project manager starts to worry

When the go-live date was less than a month away, the rest of the system implementation was going well, but the data conversion work was significantly behind, the project manager got worried. Conveniently for the project manager, he was directed by the steering committee to delay the project go-live date by three months. Acme was acquiring another company and the system implementation would be delayed for a few months to allow Acme to focus on store amalgamations and training the new employees on Acme’s way of selling products. The project manager was very relieved. He did not have to be the one to defer the go-live date due to a late and inadequate data conversion.


The project manager made an invalid assumption right from the start and kept to it even despite evidence that proved him wrong. He thought that since the French developer had always got the job done when given assigned tasks that she would also be able to deliver when she needed to define, plan, and manage the work as well. Project management was not a skill the developer had learned and so the assumption was unfair.

In addition, although the project manager monitored the progress of the rest of the project very carefully, he didn’t pay much attention to the scope, resourcing and delivery of the data conversion. He assumed that data conversion was a small and easy task compared to the rest of the project. If he had ensured that scope was defined and a schedule was developed at the start, he would have realized the extent of the work to be done. Even some preliminary discussions with other project managers would have given him better insight into the likely challenges of the data conversion work. Except for the company’s timely acquisition of a competitor, the project manager would have faced an embarrassing and costly project delay, due to his reluctance to define and plan the data conversion.

Unfortunately, both developers were uncomfortable about asking for help. They would have been wise to insist to the project manager that they needed help with the planning and coordination of the two countries’ requirements.

Copyright 2015 Debbie Gallagher