compressed, eh, compaq-ed decaffeinated pilotING

I’ve been workING too hard with the ING project in Amsterdam. The project is a real mess - being 'managed' with three (3!) program managers - one from Compaq, one from ING and one from Cap Gemini. All three had different approaches and they liked fighting with each other during 'team' meetings. I finally got Compaq (NL) to agree to replace our manager, the Cap Gemini person resigned and I was left with Walter, the ING program manager. No one from Compaq wanted to work with Walter.


I asked why ‘Walter’ was so difficult. The picture that was painted (to the right) seemed clear. Nevertheless, I talked Kieran McCorry into joining me in meeting Walter. Unarmed, we walked into Walter's office and asked for his thoughts.

"Before I talk with you, I want to know your brief."

"My briefs? Well, I no longer favour boxer shorts."

"You're going around talking to
everyone. I've recommended that we throw you out."

me out?"

"Compaq is useless. No one works. No one has any respect for deadlines.
Every Compaq employee is incompetent, uninterested and whining. They only complain. They never do anything. They missed the September, December, March and June deadlines for putting in a Pilot. There is no planning. There is no progress. They just think of excuses. They delay. They..."

"Well, Walter, perhaps we could get a coffee and sit down while we discuss this."

"I want all of you to be fired."

"I can see that you’re passionate about this project. Would you like espresso or cappuccino? On the other hand, perhaps something without caffeine might be better."

"I have offered to manage the program myself.
I'll make people deliver."

"You certainly seem to have enthusiasm, Walter. Shall we have a seat? You don’t look comfortable standing there all crunched up. Do you have a back problem?"

"I hurt my back during a flight to Hong Kong to install your hardware for the Pilot. It was the wrong hardware."

"Yes, Walter, I've heard about that problem. On the other hand, I also heard that ING wanted us to install it in a computer center that didn't have any electrical power. Would you like to sit down? I'm sure that standing and shouting is bad for your back."

“There was electricity. It was just in the wrong place. I got it fixed.”

“Fixed? How?”

“I got an extension cord from Radio Shack.”

‘That’s certainly the kind of initiative I like. By the way, who’s job is it to pre-qualify the sites. You know, checking for things like electricity? Would you like some coffee?”

"Yes, let's get some coffee."

"Decaf for you, Walter?"

I began to appreciate the feedback that I'd gotten on Walter. For some reason, the Compaq staff on the project found him "difficult". We spent the next hour listening to him - and inquiring about his back. Then Kieran and I went to see his boss - the root of the problem. Success in a project requires focus. Walter’s boss has a congenital problem: his “focus” is concave rather than convex. His attention span is measured in nanoseconds. Somehow, we convinced him to remove Walter from Program Management, but the only way I could convince him to not throw Compaq out was to take on (
temporarily) the Program Management role myself. (Well, at least I'm billable.) Rob Bening, the ING boss, scheduled a Project Management Meeting to announce the change. Naturally, he didn't tell Walter.

He opened the meeting with crystal clarity. “…and, Dan will temporarily assume the role of Program Manager. While he sorts things out, everyone else should just continue doing the same things they’ve been doing.” He handed the floor to me. Doubly floored, I was about to begin when Walter asked a question.

“Since we're doing the same things, I assume that I will continue with my program management task. I should chair this meeting.”

“Actually, Walter,” I replied, “
I'm the Program Manager, so I'll chair the meeting.”

Normally, I would have reviewed the progress, but as far as I could tell, there hadn't been any. Instead, I decided to focus on a near-term deliverable - The Pilot. I tried to drive that message home.

“After a ten months, we must deliver something. So, please concentrate: we’re going to install the Pilot. The Pilot is the most important thing that we can do now to improve confidence. Working together on The Pilot, we will demonstrate, with The Pilot, that we are able to finish something. Therefore, we will concentrate on The Pilot. The Pilot is our focus. Everything else is secondary because we will deliver The Pilot in short order. Are there any questions?”
The Pilot

“Where do you think we should focus our effort, Dan?”

I sighed. The questions continued.

“So, Compaq has taken over. You’re going to reorganize. What's the new organizational structure? What’s different? Why don't we have “a planning”? What is my exact role? The only clear thing you’ve said is that Walter is fired. Can you clarify that?”

“If it's clear, why do I have to clarify?” I asked.

In short, we had a dysfunctional group. Everyone blamed others. It was understandable: they had been working away for months - completing nothing. I spent the week trying to get people to trust each other and focus on actually delivering.

The Compaq people were livid - they not only wanted Walter removed from the Project Management role, they wanted him drawn and quartered. (And, since I had not arranged that, they wanted to quit. In fact, 11 of them
had quit during the previous 4 weeks.) The ING people were seething: Walter, the program champion, had been shoved aside and Compaq (who had done "nothing") was taking over.
screenbeat angry

The Compaq people (mostly) agreed to stay on – after I promised a review (in one month) and a graceful exit if things hadn’t improved.

In the middle of all of this, I got a nasty call from the Global Account Manager, who was trying to sell Unified Messaging to ING. I explained that UM might be useful – after the company had a workING eMail system. I reminded him that ING was difficult.

“Difficult? No, they’re easy. They don’t care about money, only about deliverables.”

“Really? That’s most unfortunate. My friend Bert tells me that we’ve forgotten to invoice them for the last three months and, as far as I can tell, nothing has actually been delivered.”

[The situation is actually a bit worse. Somebody in ING Finance saw a purported budget. Now they
do care about money. My job is now quite clear.]

Meanwhile, back in Zurich, Compaq finally assembled the order for my “executive perk” – the company car. Unfortunately, they now want 10,799 Swiss Francs. (The car, while
under the monthly leasing allowance limit, is over the total invoice price limit.) I demurred - it will be cheaper to bring the Mountaineer. We haven't found a house (I have no time to even look.) Back in Hanover, Bedlam Abode has still not sold. And., when I got back to Zurich (late), there was a note from the hotel demanding that I check out. (Compaq had forgotten to extend my stay.) On top of that – it’s raining.