Amateur hour: A database disaster IT can't fix

An inexperienced underling is entrusted with a major Web project, but IT is left to clean up the pieces

Let's say you're a business manager working on a tech project that has a budget of thousands of dollars. Let's also say IT is supposed to be involved from the beginning to keep an eye on the tech details as the project progresses.

Now, let's say you never communicate with IT about the project, it goes south, and you call IT in to clean up the mess. Then don't be surprised if the IT manager is upset, as in this story of a manager we'll call "Jack" and a data analyst we'll call "Jill."

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A little background info: The company in this tale had a toxic environment. Business managers were encouraged to compete with each other to get the desired results for as little money as possible. Those who did so were rewarded; those who did not had to try harder. Managers would get so focused on the final goal that they didn't think about how best to achieve those results, didn't communicate with key departments, and overlooked important details. As you would guess, many projects ended badly.

On the tech side, most of the database applications at this company were custom built by outside vendors, as we worked in a segment that couldn't use off-the-shelf software. IT would do basic development in-house but didn't have the staff to undertake any full-scale projects; we worked with outside vendors if a lot of coding was required.

In one of our departments was a new hire for a data analyst position. A recent graduate, Jill didn't have much experience. But she was smart and ambitious, and she impressed her manager, Jack.

Jill had been there about a year when Jack put her in charge of a complex project: She was to create a custom database with a Web interface that customers could access anywhere. Jill had no expertise in this area and was in over her head, but Jack did not notice. He gave her free reign over the project.

She found a vendor who could code the Web interface part, but after several months, the database was full of problems that the vendor wasn't doing anything to fix. Jack wasn't happy and called the IT manager (me) to straighten out the project.

Now I was the one who wasn't happy. "Why were we not notified of this project?" No good answer.

I asked more questions, but Jack sent me to Jill for the details. I tracked her down and asked her to walk me through the project from start to finish, beginning with what the project was about and who was working on it. I was shocked at her half-baked responses to these basic inquiries.

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