Overheard in a coffee shop…

An IS client support guy I know, one of the most patient, understanding client IS support guys I know, has a little piece of paper taped to the back of his door. The words on that piece of paper, in letters so small that you wouldn’t notice them unless he pointed them out, are: “The only reason that some people are alive is because it’s against the law to kill them.”

As hard as I am on the people in our business who oversell and under-deliver because they won’t come clean on the risks and uncertainties inherent in the work we do, we shouldn’t forget that sometimes it is indeed the client who should bear a large portion of the blame for IS projects that implode.

I overheard (maybe it was just a bad dream, no matter) a couple of these nightmare ‘clients’ as I was stirring the sugar-in-the-raw into my decaf cappuccino in a coffee shop the other day:

Suit and Tie Guy #1: You know, I think the IS guys want me to consider pulling the plug on that new financial systems project.

Suit and Tie Guy #2: What makes you say that?

S&TG#1: It’s the project review we had with them last week — they’re way behind the schedule we set, threatening to bust the budget, and they’re complaining that we aren’t committing enough resources to testing.

S&TG#2: As if you’ve got the extra resources to spare.

S&TG#1: As if. IS was originally trying to sell us on converting the system we’ve got for Y2K and waiting until next year to look at a new package, but I think they just wanted us to leave them alone for another year so that they could play with their technology toys. I figure if we’re gonna put that much work in to a project, we may as well get a whole new system out of the deal, right?

S&TG#2: Right. So what’d you tell ’em?

S&TG#1: I told ’em to quit complaining and get to work on an estimate for the new system.

S&TG#2: Someone told me that you tossed out their first estimate.

S&TG#1: Sure did — you should’ve seen how much they thought it would cost, and how long they thought it would take. I figure they were sandbagging the numbers from the start, deliberately making them look high so that the project wouldn’t make sense

S&TG#2: Those IS guys’ll do that if you don’t watch ’em like a hawk.

S&TG#1: So I cut 30 per cent off the budget and 30 per cent of the schedule numbers they gave me. I figure that since they probably estimated twice as high as they should in the first place, I was still leaving them with a more-than-generous 20 per cent contingency. But even with all that slush, they’re still way behind schedule.

S&TG#1: So what are you gonna do?

S&TG#1: I’m not gonna give ’em any more money, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to go to the VP and tell her that the schedule is in jeopardy. I think I’m gonna get them to drop a few things out of the project to bring it back in line.

S&TG#2: Drop things like what?

S&TG#1: Like all that testing they want — they’ve got way too much of it in the plan, and I can’t spare the people they want for testing anyway. I figure if I cut some of that kind of fat out of the plan and they work some overtime, they might still get done. And you know what? If I play my cards right, I might even be able to fit in that financial reporting hierarchy change that we’ve agreed to implement by year end.

I’d heard enough. For some reason, I couldn’t get the words on that little scrap of paper out of my head. As I headed for the exit with my coffee in my fist, I felt grateful for not having to have to work with these guys, and sympathy for those who did.

Hanley is an IS professional living in Calgary. He can be reached at [email protected].

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