21 September, 2005

Project Death Spiral: full speed astern

Death Spiral has been desperately in need of some key software tool since before its inception, and it just hasn't happened. We came close a month ago when our business analyst compiled the specs and documentation needed to put out a Request For Quote, and things seemed like they might happen. Then PMv1 vetoed further progress until he came back from holiday, because he wanted big stakeholder meetings and workshops controlled by the project office rather than individual consultation with stakeholders by our business analyst.

Now PMv1's back, and we had the first big, happy gathering yesterday, where a handful of bewildered stakeholders turned up wondering why there were going through this again. PMv1 didn't attend, but the project manager from Brother of Death Spiral was there and too the opportunity to drop the following bombshell.

"I think we should ignore the fact that Death Spiral has needed this software for ages, and look for a solution that will do everything.

"Oh, and by the way - I've bypassed all you stakeholders and outlined my grand vision to your boss, and he thinks it's a good idea. So whaddya say, team?"

There's the sound of a collective jaw dropping. I look at our business analyst, and he's looking carefully neutral and non-committal. Smart move - I know he's not in favour of the idea, but he has to go back to the Project Office alone after this meeting, where he'll be punished for his treachery.

The BoDS project manager continues.

"So I'm proposing we hijack this RFQ, get Death Spiral's business analyst to work it up into a much bigger, all-encompassing document with expanded specifications, and then we can go out to market with a full tender."

The jaws remain dropped. I'm still watching our business analyst, and the neutral expression cracks long enough for me to see a look of frozen horror on his face as he realises the Project Office plans to extend his contract.

My operational manager speaks up to agree that something that does everything is a fine idea, but he really needs something that does what the Death Spiral software is intended to do now.

"Absolutely," says the BoDS PM, "but the potential is here, now, to make this RFQ into something bigger that will solve all our problems for years to come. That's something worth aiming for, even if it means things take a little longer."

("Taking a little longer" in this case means easily another six months or more. Our business analyst flinches again).

Everyone else in the room is sitting in a stunned silence. Not only isn't this what they'd been expecting to hear, it's only barely in the same hemisphere as the meeting's original topic.

"Do we actually know what this 'everything' that we want to try to do actually is?" asks one stakeholder cautiously.

"Everything that isn't already in Death Spiral's requirements," comes the reply. "What they want is too specific."

"But that's because this was being bought for Death Spiral to meet Death Spiral's needs."

"Well, I've been looking at it, and even though it's got nothing to do with Brother of Death Spiral, I think what I want needs to take priority over what the people involved with Death Spiral may have thought they wanted."

"Whereabouts is PMv1?" asks another. "He's managing Death Spiral - what does he think about this?"

Still dazed with fear, our business analyst answers without thinking. "He wasn't keen to come to - I mean, he had another meeting to go to."

"I've spoken to your boss," the BoDS PM reminds everyone, "and he thinks it's a good idea. So I think we should have our business analyst write an expanded document and get the steering committee to approve it so we can get things underway."

"I think it would be a good idea to let us stakeholders work out whether it's even possible in the first place before derailing Death Spiral yet again," ventures another, rousing himself from a state of deep shock.

"Of course it's possible. How hard can it be to find a software solution that will do everything? I think it's actually quite simple, so it must be. Anyway, I've got another meeting to go to, so I'll talk to you all later after the business analyst has had time to draft a new RFQ."

He breezes out. People sit and look at one another, dumbfounded.

Finally our business analyst breaks the silence. "So, ah, shall we consider the meeting over for now?"

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