As an IT professional, you're trained to finish a project on time and on budget while meeting the set objectives. However, it's hard to prepare for co-workers who don't support you and instead give you the runaround. Not even a successful rollout can wipe away the frustration of working on a team that doesn't seem to have your back.
At this company, my team consisted of my manager “Tom” and a co-worker “Irene.” Since before I was hired, they were responsible for an outdated email system that they also neglected to maintain. The arrangement resulted in many problems, but one in particular stood out: The spam filter settings were out of control.
As a consequence, users saw increasingly more emails marked as spam in their inbox -- including emails that were not spam. To be able to read the legitimate message, the users would have to send a note to IT requesting the email in question be unmarked as spam and resent. This was a long, laborious process for all involved. But for some unexplained reason, Tom and Irene were very vocal within IT about not modifying the spam filter settings.
Two years later, out of the blue, Tom gave me the task of finding a new email solution. I was a little uneasy about being in charge of this project because Tom and Irene had much more experience with administrating email and had been so adamant in the past that nobody else deal with it.
The first hurdle
I wasn’t given a lot of initial information, but to start, I had business managers’ names to help in getting requirements for the new email system. Later, “Bob” was added to the email project team. Bob was not an employee of the company, but a neighbor and friend of one of the board members -- and he had his own business as an IT consultant. I’d seen Bob in action before and was not impressed; it seemed that whenever he was involved, the IT project failed.
We proceeded with a meeting with the managers, and overall it went well. I got all of the requirements that I needed, and the managers had very reasonable requests. Bob, however, sounded clueless in the meeting. Based on the information that I got from the managers, I had enough to make a matrix of features that were mandatory, important, and optional.
Then, without warning, Bob sent an email to me, Tom, and the president and vice president of the company about an email system quote. It included a stand-alone server, an email application (without user licenses or fees), and local storage all for less than $10,000.
The execs were excited about it at first, but I explained that this was not an adequate solution for the requirements. My estimates for an email system, including a rack-mounted server, additional storage, email application, and user licenses would exceed $50,000. However, I pointed out that I had not finished evaluating options, including cloud-based, and would have more information very soon.
When the IT manager saw Bob’s proposal, he agreed it wouldn’t work. He also talked to the president and vice president and explained why Bob’s solution was not realistic. They consented to leave it alone for the time being.
Change of plans
The next turn of events came when Tom scaled back the requirements for the new system. He told me that he only wanted email and spam filtering to be considered -- no advanced features or anything else. Why, I asked -- was it the cost? No reason.
I was concerned. These limitations were going to cause issues in the near future because it wouldn't keep up with business needs or available email capabilities, and no one would be happy with the solution.
Nevertheless, through my research I narrowed it down to one recommendation: It was cloud-based and met Tom’s requirement of “email and spam filtering only,” but also had the option of enabling the other features that the business managers wanted for their staff. And it would cost less than $5,000 a year.
Why won't Tom test it?
We were now more than two months into the project. Tom agreed to get a trial of my proposed product, but decided I could only do a limited testing: IT only, and no other email users. Tom refused to test the email solution himself.
The email solution worked great in the test environment, and the setup was very easy. But I was unhappy that Tom would not test it and check it out for himself. Though I gave Tom updates and information, he would not make a commitment to the email solution.
We ended up going past the expiration date of the 30-day trial. Tom still did not give an answer on what he wanted to do and stopped answering my emails on the project. The president of the company was getting upset and wanted to know the project’s timeline, but Tom would not give me an answer, even when I asked him face to face. The president, on a weekly basis, started to check in with me about the status of the email project -- while Tom continued to stonewall me. Finally, Tom said he would update the president on the project status and would take accountability for the delays. That did not make me comfortable.
Finally, Tom made a very noncommittal decision that we would test it further. Fortunately, I was able to get an extension on the trial. Then Tom started to actually test the email solution himself and nitpicked every detail with comments like, “I don’t like their email client and no one will ever use it,” or “I don’t like how it syncs with the email client everyone is currently using,” or “It takes too long to download emails,” and on and on it went.
I addressed Tom’s feedback about the email client and reported that it worked faster and better than our old one, but Tom was not interested in listening to me.
Then Tom decided that we also needed email archiving -- and it was mandatory, or I would have to look at other solutions. Fortunately, that was one of the options available.
Tom finally gave me the approval to test the new email system with actual users. I worked with the business managers and a few users. The tests worked well, and although I wasn’t supposed to do this, I tested the installation, including how the email client worked on users’ mobile devices. I was pleased that it worked on every one without any issues or problems.
Two against one
After three weeks of more stalling and Tom still being very unsatisfied, we were ready to go with it and started planning for a migration to the new email system. Irene, Tom, and I met to discuss how the process would work and who would be responsible for each item of the migration. We wrote the items, responsibilities, and names on a meeting notepad. Irene’s most important task was to forward any incoming emails to the new email system once we were ready to cut over, and this was written clearly in the migration process.
Before the email migration weekend, Irene, Tom, and I reviewed the email implementation from the meeting notepad and re-affirmed everyone's responsibilities. We did the migration over the weekend, including updating the email clients on every computer.
The Monday after the email migration was going smoothly until the afternoon. Some of the users started to complain that they were not getting all of their email, and customers and vendors were calling about not getting email responses from our company.
While investigating, I tried to ask Irene about the forwarding setup from the old system, but she was nowhere to be found -- and neither was Tom. On Tuesday morning, I talked to the vendor support engineers, and as we went through it more thoroughly, they also stated that the email forwarding was not working properly or was not set up.
On Tuesday afternoon, Tom called me into his office very upset, asking me why users were not receiving all of their email. Tom said, “I don’t want you to spend any time troubleshooting the problem, I just want you to fix it.” I told Tom that I had not been able to get a response from Irene, but I thought that the email forwarding wasn’t set up correctly from the old email system. Tom said, “Oh … let me take care of it.”
Tom tracked down Irene and they emerged from his office soon after, laughing and joking. Irene went to her desk and half an hour later the reports of missing emails stopped. When I finally was able to ask her, she denied there was ever any problem and never apologized.
It pays to be thorough
Things settled into a smooth routine until a month later when Tom came to me, frantic, saying, “What are we going to do? The vice president wants to get email on his mobile device and I don’t know what to tell him!”
I told Tom, “I got it covered. I tested email on mobile devices and it works on every one of them so far. I will send you some documentation on how to do it.”
He calmed down, but didn’t say anything.
After two years, almost everyone was using the new email client -- and Tom was one of its biggest fans. We had even started using more of the features available.
The execs publicly commended the new email system. Tom started using it to get email on his mobile device, and Irene was happy that she didn’t have to do email administration anymore. Though all ended well with the email system, it was hard to feel like I could trust Tom and Irene again -- a vital part of a working situation.