As I continued talking to Jill and becoming more familiar with the situation, two major problems stood out. The first was that the scope of the project wasn't well defined and was, therefore, a moving target. The second was that the vendor had promised the moon but couldn't deliver. The main components of the project were working, such as the Web interface, but there were many bugs and missing features.
Thinking through the options, I told Jill we wouldn't pay the vendor unless they fixed those issues. She hesitated, shifted nervously, then looked down and muttered that she'd already paid them in full. Face palm.
I got the vendor's contact information from her and told her I'd see what I could do. After a few conversations with them, I found out that they were a group of experienced developers who'd decided to go out on their own but were still inexperienced about handling the business side -- though obviously they knew how to get paid. Still, they promised the world but couldn't make good on their word.
To be fair, it seemed they didn't have an easy time on the project, either. They told me that in the beginning, the scope was much simpler. As development progressed, Jill told them to change this, change that, add this, subtract that. It ended up being a lot more work than they had anticipated.
However, I couldn't verify much of this because there was very little written communication between Jill and the vendor. Even the initial scope of the project was based on an oral agreement, and the written contract was full of holes.
Trying to salvage the situation, I asked the vendor for the source code and documentation to see if our IT department could take over the project and fix the issues, but they refused. Their solution was to offer to host the database for us, charging us by the record.
We had no leverage because the vendor had already been paid in full. They refused to work with us on our terms and always tried to steer us back to their conditions, of course asking for more money. Negotiations were futile.
I gave Jack the recommendation that we cut our losses and move on. He said he'd think about it. A month later, Jill was no longer with the company, probably to give the execs the impression that something had been done to compensate for the money lost -- although she shouldn't have been given that level of responsibility in the first place.
A couple of months later, Jack told me he'd scrapped the project, and I eventually left the company. I never found out what happened with the Web-based data application, but odds are it met the same fate as its original leader.
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This story, "Amateur hour: A database disaster IT can't fix," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more crazy-but-true stories in the anonymous Off the Record blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.