Our fault? Read the project audit and weep

A wise development team brings in the big guns against accusations of mismanagement on a troubled software project

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2

I took Dan through my change control file and all the approvals he had signed, and told him we needed to either be paid the additional money or we would have to stop work when the current funding ran out. And that was how I ended up in the hot spot in the big conference room.

The client's project team, the executive sponsor, the client's auditors, Dan's boss, and others were in the room meeting for an hour before we were scheduled to join them. As my senior project manager and I walked in, we could feel the hostility. All that was missing for this to feel like a true interrogation was a bare bulb and a whip.

Pleading the case

I introduced myself and launched into a presentation. I had function points of what we quoted on, what the function points were after we reduced scope, and what they had grown to with change control. The increase in function points directly correlated to the increased funding approved in the change controls.

I had schedules that listed the change controls, the amount of each, the date they were presented, and the dates they were approved. By the time I had finished, it was pretty clear we hadn't just increased costs on our own and we believed we'd had client approval to incur the extra expense.

At this point the executive sponsor asked me who had approved all of these change controls. I paused at this point, expecting Dan to stand up and take responsibility. The room was silent. Finally I said, "People in this room." The sponsor asked, "Who?" I gestured my hands broadly toward the gathered crowd. Finally, the sponsor figured it out, pointed his finger at Dan, and literally screamed, "Did you approve all of those change controls?"

At this point Dan admitted that he had, then started to explain that since we were still under the original funding, they could always stop work and the money didn't have to be spent. This did not comfort the sponsor. It was ugly.

The last question was asked by the auditors, who wanted me to explain why we hadn't raised a concern to senior management when we saw this spinning out of control. I explained the audit we conducted and provided the date of our letter to senior management expressing our concern. I then flashed a copy of the letter on the screen (at this point Dan's boss was not very happy with me). Why none of the client's senior managers would acknowledge receiving it is still an irritant to me.

Crisis weathered

The next few weeks were most interesting as the sponsor asked the audit firm he had hired to conduct an audit of our project while he did some work internally (presumably to figure out his next steps if the results pointed back at the client's company). The audit firm in the end told the client that we were running a good project and the problem was in its shop.

The sponsor got the additional money for us but insisted on a fixed price to complete the project. We agreed to this with the proviso that there be a steering committee formed that met every two weeks and that the executive sponsor and a few other senior leaders attend all of these meetings. They agreed. We had a number of other requests to improve the effectiveness of the project, and the client agreed to most of them.

Dan's role was reduced to assistant project manager, and a new project manager was installed by the client. "Bob" was an engineer who had built manufacturing plants. He was very disciplined and very reasonable, and he made many good decisions. He was a pleasure to work with. The executive sponsor, when he finally engaged, was an excellent leader and his attendance at steering committee meetings made a real difference.

With the new leadership structure and the other changes that we asked for, the project moved along quite well. Furthermore, shortly before a successful launch the sponsor told his board of directors that ours was the best-run project he had ever seen. Challenges can be overcome.

Send your own IT tale of managing IT, personal bloopers, supporting users, or dealing with bureaucratic nonsense to offtherecord@infoworld.com. If we publish it, we'll send you a $50 American Express Gift Cheque.

This story, "Our fault? Read the project audit and weep," 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.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2