Part 3 of 5 – The Lions Pit

Managing uncertainty

Managing uncertainty

Managing uncertainty on critically important projects is akin to that of being thrown into the proverbial Lions pit. You never know if the Lions will eat you or if God will come to your rescue. It still happens to this day. It can be shocking, surprising, and very painful!

Like my biblical namesake who believed he had earned the trust of King Nebuchadnezzar – whose dream he had successfully interpreted with God’s help. I too believed I had gained the client’s trust when I jump-started the GSM Telecommunications Portal project, where all others had failed.

It would be weeks later when I would come to realise how fragile trust can be – especially when manipulated.


Every Tuesday afternoon the GSM Portal project includes a weekly taskforce meeting. I attend regularly, representing my organisation. I have always believed that the more prepared you are, then the better you can deliver. From my hotel club-suite at the Sheraton Zagreb – which by the way I had turned part of it into my very own strategic bunker – I thought I would be prepared for any and every eventuality. I was, but you know, the best laid plans and all that. Something can always go wrong … and it did.

“He appeared edgy and pungent with negativity.”

Arriving at the task-force meeting I normally hold a nice catch-up “chit-chat” with the IT Director on the client side. On this occasion our normal verbal exchange is side tracked to technical issues. The Director is concerned about the setup progress of the development environment and – news to me – setup of the staging environment. He appeared edgy and pungent with negativity. Something was not quite right.

“Something was definitely very very wrong.”

In the large cavernous conference room, situated around a very large oaken oval table, there were some unusually empty chairs. The client Marketing Manager arrives briskly, earlier than usual, followed closely upon her heels by the Head of Marketing. There is some shuffling as two or three other members of the weekly task-force take their places at the table. We skip on actions from minutes of the last meeting, as requested by Head of Marketing. Something was definitely very very wrong.

“I find myself on a rope dangling head downwards into the Lions pit.”

The Marketing Manager pounces first, wildly swiping at me with a set of lethally sharp tipped questions – any one of them designed to throw my organisation out of the project. They are questions that I do not know the answers to because they are set in the very distant past, well before I arrived on the project. Never-the-less, the client continues lashing out at me until they “string me up”. I find myself dangling from a rope, head downwards, into the Lions pit.

“my organisation is held to blame for everything that has gone wrong with the client’s project”

By the time the Marketing Manager has finished all accusations, joined in by the Head of Marketing, my organisation is held to blame for everything that has gone wrong with the client’s project, since day one! The client demands compensation in the form of additional features – not within the project scope. They have hard copy evidence of my organisation’s short-comings and they bring out the Lions to feast.

“No staging environment, then you have developed nothing – at least nothing we can see”

The meeting goes on longer than normal. IBM’s Technical Director delivers several scathing attacks, rolling off evidence with dates. Without relent he explains that they had paid for my team to attend the TISM PTK training – for example – and that my team had not been in attendance. This meant that my organisation was now responsible for the delays to the project – because the staging environment had not been setup. Therefore this issue would impact delivery of – and to – the production environment. The client side IT Director seals my fate as he begins cutting through the rope. “No staging environment, then you have developed nothing – at least nothing we can see”.

“At the beginning of the project, I had logged the systems integration flaw.”

With no real answers to the stinging accusations, I remembered that, “against overwhelming odds, retreat, but leave a warning sign”. I knew well – as did the client – that the staging environment was not the responsibility of my organisation. At the beginning of the project, I had logged the systems integration flaw.  The client wanted one of the many teams to carry out systems integration for the entire project – but at no cost. At this phase of the project, my organisation had not taken the lead role. It was IBM leading the project.

“I steered clear from giving any unsupportable answers.”

Very calmly I reiterated from my notes the accusations levied against my organisation. I fully agreed with the client that I had no real answer to their questions – and I steered clear from giving any unsupportable answers. Yet, I realised that they were well aware of how meticulous I was – so I left them with something to think about. “I trust that I will not find all you have said, to be not what it appears to be.” I smiled and thanked them, as I normally do, for the meeting and departed.


What do you think happened next? What would you have done in this situation? How do you think you could deliver the largest and most recognised project in Eastern Europe after a meeting like that?



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