CASE STUDY COMPETITION: Second part of Marco's story Set by Ben Johnson.
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The story so far: Marco, a technical specialist, has been assigned by his manager, Ioannis, to ensure that all the sites in the company download and install a database application. Marco’s role is to provide technical support for initial start up. After three months only two of the eighty sites have installed the application, and, although the installation has been longer and more complex than originally assumed, both sites have found the investment financially viable. Marco has realized that maybe up to half the sites are not adequately equipped in the first place and cannot upgrade without investing in their IT infrastructure. In a dramatic move the company is now going to be taken over by its biggest rival. Ioannis has precipitated the database installation into the forefront, lobbying the sites and putting pressure on Marco to make sure all comply before the end of the year. We asked you to advise Marco on what he had to do to get on top of this situation. See how Marco has responded to the comments you sent him.
Marco decided to post a question on a professional forum to see if he could get any ideas about what to do. He received some very interesting responses that Marco found surprising. There were a lot of references to the 'Business case', 'Reference sites', 'Project Governance', 'Executive Sponsor' , 'Options appraisal', 'Feasibility exercise', 'Double loop learning process'. It was as if he was being plunged into a whole new world.
There were suggestions that he should 'involve senior managers', 'organize training in head office', 'order hardware to send to the underequipped sites', with a proposal this could be funded by the saving generated in the sites that were already up and running. Closer to his own field of expertise he was advised to 'try to find a different software', 'simplify the application', 'write an installation guide', and 'host the database centrally to take pressure off the local infrastructure'.
This advice seemed excellent, there was a wealth of good ideas that would certainly go a long way to making what had initially appeared an impossible to target into one that was simply 'nearly impossible'. However, most people assumed that Marco had a lot more power and authority than he had in practice. If he were in Ioannis’ position he could probably take all the advice, but Marco was 'only' a technical specialist. Or was he?
The words 'project' and 'programme' came up very often in the responses, but was this a project? It was meant to have been a simple support operation, although in fact it had turned out to be a lot more complicated than that. One comment in particular started Marco thinking 'your job has morphed from one of technical specialist to technical specialist and project manager'. Was Marco a project manager?
This was certainly not his job title. He had never received any training on that topic, nor had he any experience. The subject had never come up in his annual performance and development reviews and, most importantly in Marco’s mind, he had never once even asked to become a project manager.
He suddenly found himself cast into a role for which he was totally unprepared, and everyone around him seemed to think that was quite normal. Marco was staggered, he had been trying for some time to be promoted to Technical Consultant, building up his specialist experience, contributing to forums, proposing papers for conferences, helping out other specialists and had so far received no recognition for his efforts, even less any reward. Now, without any warning, he was being pushed into a high-profile position. Did he want to accept the challenge?
There was a park not far from the head office and Marco walked over there so he could think through the whole situation and assimilate the different aspects of all the advice he had been so generously given. It occurred to him that by using a combined solution he could indeed cover the needs of both the sites which had an adequate IT infrastructure and those that didn’t, provided he could set up the centrally hosted option. If he could involve the people from the two sites that were up and running and have them share their expertise with the others then that would multiply the available resources. If he could produce an 'implementation guide' and set up training then the knowledge could be shared more quickly.
These were big 'ifs', but could they be made to work then it would just be possible to have all the sites compliant before the deadline.
Marco realized that he would have to work closely with Ioannis to have any chance of success. The trouble was, Ioannis was is a state nearing panic, and this while being blithely unaware of the technical shortcomings of up to half the sites. His expectation seemed to be that Marco could snap his fingers and the sites would be up and running. Marco somehow had to ensure that Ioannis would go along with his plan, but first Ioannis would have to be prepared to listen and become aware of the hard reality.
This was going to be a delicate discussion and one that was crucial.
How would you advise Marco to go about it in order to maximize chances of success?
Fortunately this case is fictitious
Answers to: clem AT projectmanagertoday.co.uk.
Please keep your responses to within 300 word and submit by the 15th of August
Many thanks for all your pertinent and interesting responses to the first episode of this case published in the June 2011 edition. As you can see Marco has made good use of your advice, a selection of the best is printed below:
'Marco would be best to do as much as he possibly could with what he had' suggests Michelle Banda. 'Can the database be simplified…and made more user-friendly?' questions Neil Richardson, and Stephen Jones asks 'Has the option been considered of running the application as a single database or at least hosting it centrally as multiple databases?'Maneesh Gupta proposes that : 'The business benefits achieved by other sites should be advertised as hard evidence to convince others to take on the project'. Owen Anthony warns that 'If financial concerns are the key drivers then charging at a project unprepared and fluffing it will be more expensive with fewer benefits ultimately'. Mark Evans points out that : 'Install guides based on the experiences of the first two successful implementations would help'. Optimistically Stephanie Draper says:' Marco should see this as a great opportunity as the new company may require similar types of project, so use the lessons he learnt from this project'. Excellent and very practical tips!
The prize of an ESI course of his choice goes to for this episode goes to Adrian Leibert who spotted the key fact that a lot of Marco’s difficulties come from the fact that he is NOT a project manager,
Circumstances based on a series of untested assumptions combined with unpredictable changes have unofficially expanded Marco’s role. He has had no preparation, no warning, no training and no increased salary for having to take on such an increase in responsibility. Although it would seem near madness for a large, multinational organisation, such as the one Marco works in, or indeed any organisation, to run a potentially critical part of their business in this way, this situation is extremely common.
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