When big projects go bad, they can go really bad -- and it's somebody's job to make the project happen or die trying.
In the late 1990s, Michael S. Meyers-Jouan was CIO of a small, family-run apparel maker tasked with the job of easing a DOS-era company into what was then the cutting edge.
"When they recruited me, I found myself supporting an ancient order processing system running on an AIX box, a MAS 90 accounting system, and a collection of PCs," says Meyers-Jouan. "I was supporting an HR department that never quite understood Windows, relational databases, or network security. I was supporting process managers who would enter columns of numbers into an Excel worksheet, then add the numbers up on a calculator and enter the sum below the column, and CAD system users whose idea of 'backup' was to make copies on floppies."
Nonetheless, Meyers-Jouan was handed the task of bringing his new employer into the late 20th century. He produced a detailed RFP, and over several months, he winnowed the list of potential vendors from 30 to 3, then finally to a single winner.
"That's when the fun began," he says. "Installing the ERP software was relatively simple. Interviewing the users to develop business process road maps and job descriptions was tedious, but no worse than expected. Configuring the software to match the business needs was challenging and time consuming, but within our capabilities. But getting the users to adopt the new system was simply not going to happen."
The factory workers refused to participate in the process, despite promises it would cut their workload in half. The back-office employees couldn't understand how a factory worker covered in oily dirt had anything useful to tell them; they continued to rely on email, spreadsheets, and 10-key machines to do their jobs. And the last thing top management wanted to hear about was the need for "culture change."
"For the only time in my life, I was fired," says Meyers-Jouan. "The ERP system never did get put into use, and not too long thereafter, the company stopped answering their phones."