Part 5 of 5 – Checkmate – part 2

It was approaching 09:00. Breakfast had been a gulp. I was far too excited to see how my plan for the strategic restart of the project would turn out. My excitement overcame all the unknown variables which included; client continues the suspension regardless of the facts, client becomes entrenched in the blame game, client reacts negatively and formally closes the project.  The project restart plan was going to work, in spite of the formal project suspension letter. This time was different, we had clear leadership. Our project saboteurs knew that, and were obviously afraid.

Lack of leadership has a tale-tell sign, noticed as a project stopping and starting. This one had had its fair share of that.  Our client liaison was shuffling around while I hung on the phone. I could tell that this was not the call he was expecting. More than likely he was probably thinking, who would have the audacity to call him while the project was in suspension? After all, he was the client. “To overcome challenges in our world, you must be ready to face grave realities.” A Mujahideen General told me this just before he gave me bodyguards to cross into Afghanistan.

The project suspension was as grave as you could get. The terrain on this project was as rocky as the mountainous regions south east of Kabul. I could not fear coming before the client in this way because there were other stakeholders, beyond him, whom depended on the delivery of this project. Before calling the client liaison, I sent off a set of emails; one to Lisa in London, two to India and one to the supplier screwing up the project. In parallel I updated our PMO. Note to myself: restarting a failing project takes serious courage – but it is exciting.

The client liaison finally came to the phone. We began talking seriously for a good 20minutes. Actually, I listened while he talked. I kept in mind that invisible wall that has always existed between those developing the software, and those who would come to use it; we rarely understand each other, so listen. He was right of course. I should not be contacting him. There are rules when dealing with clients that should not be broken. Yet, this was a time when those rule must be broken. The needs of other stakeholders demanded it. Later on it turned out to be the wisest thing to have done.

When he had finished talking, I asked him to look at the scanned documentation in our PMO. Our often big useless meetings were not all entirely useless.  I went through each document in brief, and then the penny dropped. There was a momentary silence, where neither of us spoke. He had obviously realised what had been discovered. To test that reality, he asked what all of this information had to do with the suspension of the project. I told him the project had run up vast costs, way before the arrival of my organisation. “You signed off on those costs.”

The game was up. My team and I had thoroughly reviewed every bottleneck issue. There was no more hiding of the clearly avoidable mistakes. They had cost this project hundreds of thousands, not to mention some serious pain. The client liaison knew he was now in a precarious position. It could easily be perceived that he had been trying to cover up his mistakes. For example, he had purchased project equipment without any kind of a service level agreement. Equally, he had failed to put these huge purchases through the proper supplier tender processes.

Our phone call was abruptly interrupted. He asked me to hold while someone came into his office. I knew who it was. Lisa had called the Client project head – not to spill the beans. The role of the Client project head at that moment was to place the client liaison in check. 2 minutes went by, and then the Client liaison returned to the phone. He asked me what I thought the next steps should be.  I requested that he call a taskforce meeting to restart the project. There was a short discussion while I hung on. Less than a minute later he came back saying the meeting would be that afternoon.

I had deliberately left out the joining up of the dots on the evidence of mistakes on the project living in our PMO. It was not in my organisation’s best interest to point fingers. My only purpose was to deliver this very important project.  It served no one if the main players were to step off the project restart train at this stage. Besides, all I had done was to bring the client back to the reality of their own requirements – from which they had deliberately deviated, either willingly or unwillingly.

As I put down the phone, it rang immediately; the supplier liaison. She had just got my email, and the attachments. She said that she had never been aware of the problems I sent her, but offered to help “smooth things out”. We talked on how that could be achieved, and she agreed that she would support required conditions of the project restart, including the new technical lead for her team. We both concluded that iterative development remained useful, but it had been encroaching on the time required for proper realistic documentation of the project. More worryingly, the lack of adequate documentation had made it easier for the client to let important tasks lapse.

The task-force meeting was emptier than usual, but began with an indirect apology addressed at my organisation from the Client project head. It was hoped, she said, that we could retry and work together more closely. I remember seriously hoping that she meant what she was saying. For sure I was going to do just that, and a whole lot more. I took the floor and provided draft plans for going forward on the project. The meeting went on beyond its usual hour. I had raised several communication issues which were grinding the project down. Progress reporting had been sketchy and this required immediate rectification, starting with the minutes for that meeting.

Our meeting ended, late in the afternoon. By the time I returned to the office, a formal notice lifting the project from suspension was sent via email. Checkmate! All country teams were very happy, and our Chairman in London was on his way to see me. More than likely he realised that this was one of many challenges to overcome – and probably wanted to see how prepared I was for the future ones.  The next game was about to begin, and it was going to be even harder; the battle for leadership control of the project.

  1. jhon says:

    Damn ur a good writer.. nice writing. I was just looking for a picture of a chess board on google images but got her eon ur page, and good luck with ur project!

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