Monday 13 December 2004

A short misery of projects

Having just concluded a module on my MSc course pertaining to Project Management, I was given the opportunity to discuss one project that suffered seriously from the interference of politics.
I rose to the occasion with this tome.
The Facts
My ex-boss - Arthus Gratedane - pseudonym - was a rabid political dog, the day was not made if someone somewhere in the organisation had not received the political equivalent of a body slam.
Anyway, in this case we had at the head-quarters of a mainly European company constituted the Infrastructure Programme Management team at just one level below the CIO office and we had opportunities for innovation and improvement of services in the organisation.
We had only recently notched up a success with the implementation of a secure remote access solution which allowed users access to their data and standard applications from any internet connection if they had their secure token.
This created a launch pad to take on many more daring projects.
Then we started with Strauss which was a new desktop environment based on Windows XP, a new domain structure based on Windows 2000 Active Directory Services and Microsoft Exchange 2000 for email.
One particular trait Mr Gratedane had was a complete unwillingness for different teams to interact, especially if they were not teams he himself built. This for us was a kind of advantage, but in general made our work ever more difficult.
This meant our well-intentioned plans met with resistance with the local support teams around the Netherlands. Mr Gratedane solved that problem by advocating the centralisation of administrative services, thus making the core expertise of the regional teams redundant and retaining only box shifters.
We were to conduct an aggressive take-over of all that disparate infrastructure then recruit new staff and handover that infrastructure to the new staff within three weeks; which we did.
Then that gave us the opportunity to railroad the Strauss solution throughout the Netherlands without subjecting the solution to a decent pilot.
What should have been a resounding success was panned and criticised not because of the quality but because of how it was implemented through management aggression and the lack of consideration.
Managers in other departments just resisted anything that was in the interest of the company that came from any team managed by Mr Gratedane, but he had the ear of the executives in everything he did so people left rather than engage him.
When it came to rolling out Strauss to other European countries with Austria being the first, we encountered the fact that we could not sell Strauss to Austria, so the project was changed to the Hydra PC project.
The people in Austria were primed to act, any minor issue was a complete showstopper, it was so frustrating and nerve-racking.
Austria already had an advanced implementation that pre-existed Strauss by at least 6 months and the company could have used that solution quite easily all around Europe, but not on Mr Gratedane's watch.
We ended up implementing a parallel system in Austria with people logging into two environments for services and data, sometimes on two PCs.
Our implementation was a very poor alternative and received even less accolades, however, we, the team had to find ways of interacting with other teams without the knowledge of the boss to help facilitate issues and make things work.
The unfortunate political atmosphere in the company, which thrived on empire building, finger-pointing and atrocious escalations lead to unnecessary waste of resources, ideas, goodwill and productivity.
As an observer it looked like company had more competition between the departments than with their competitors. If that energy had been directed to more positive things, it could have yielded probably 10% to 20% company growth year on year.
The Figures
One must say that Mr Gratedane always got sponsorship for all his projects and all were fully implemented with varying degrees of success.
We probably had more project managers than project executors at one time.
The document churn rivalled that of a newspaper house with presentations about every little detail. [1]
The Failings
What created failing projects even though they were delivered as described and intended were the following
  • The stakeholder, sponsor and senior project manager were the same person
  • Project Managers were pen-pushing administrators [2] who were not allowed to model or method processes despite the fact that they were PRINCE 2 educated or at times certified – things were done on the whim of the sponsor – Mr Gratedane
  • Responsibility and opportunity was taken for everything that went right, no matter how trivial but blame was quickly averted for problems - A typical, its my baby isn't it beautiful? Its our baby smiling, but its your baby crying - syndrome.
  • The perception of risk was minimal except for where there were competing interests within the company, then the quest to excel and deliver at breakneck speed was tempered with a bit of reasoning
  • The executors were hardly part of the assessment, decision or specification process, they were talked down to never communicated with
  • The Human Resource element thrived on motivating staff by threatening their jobs and irrelevance, never by encouraging them to do their best
  • Solutions were always delivered but the expense of goodwill and acceptance
More so, I really felt for the project managers caught in the middle of the megalomania and the chaos. Since I left in July, Mr Gratedane has become the ex-boss of 7 other senior infrastructure personnel.
This is the least palatable face of company politics and I have only reviewed on of the many.
Project Victim Support archives – mine.
[1] Alexis' PowerPoints were her shoulder pads...
[2] The Pen Pushers Posse Pogrom