Back in the big chair

The big digital project at work was due to go live earlier this month, but was postponed for a few weeks because the vendor was behind schedule. The new go-live date was set for next Thursday, the 28th. UAT started just before Easter and, after Easter, the project manager decided to take the week off (which I consider irresponsible).

That was last Tuesday. There’s already been negative reports coming out of UAT, but they escalated last week. Defects were being reported, as expected, but the critical issue was the instability of the UAT environment, which meant that testing veered between difficult and impossible. It was hugely frustrating and we fell days behind in the schedule, without getting to the bottom of UAT.

We had discussed options around project go/no-go the week before, when it was more of a theoretical than a practical consideration. Now it became a burning question, and it fell to me to resolve it.

Of course, it should have been the PM making that decision, but he had his feet up somewhere nibbling on an Easter bilby. Theoretically, it then fell to the woman who had been the hands-on PM, liaising with the vendor, scheduling training and UAT, and managing development. This was over her head, though. It was not a decision she wanted to make, though she agreed with it. She had neither the exposure nor the relationship with the executive stakeholders who would have to be informed of this. Nor did she have the confidence to make that call alone.

It was natural for me to step up, though I relished it no more than she did. Already delayed once, a further delay to the project would be unpopular and potentially controversial. From an organisational perspective, this is a big, potentially transformational project, with a lot riding on it.

No-one knows the work better than me though. Had I not got ill, it would have been my project. All the same, I’d done all the lead-up work and negotiated the scope and cost of it. My absence meant I was on the periphery when I returned, but I still knew it better than those doing it. On top of that, I know the execs and they know and respect me. And, I enjoy being in the hot seat.

It was obvious we had to delay. Even the vendor accepted that. I made the decision without setting a new date. That would be contingent on certain milestones being met. I contacted the key stakeholders to let them know what was on the cards and why, then sent out the email making it official.

That left the great challenge of getting UAT back on track. We had no satisfactory answer why we had problems with it. I escalated with the vendor demanding from them hyper care until we got the problems resolved.

In addition, there were a few functional and admin holes that no-one had addressed and, having assumed control of the project, I sought to plug them.

This was a lot of work and very demanding. It was poor, if not unreasonable that it had been left to me – recovering from cancer and only working part-time. It involved a lot of meetings, a lot of phone calls, emails detailing what needed to be done and how, reassurance and some cajoling of the people doing the work (very industrious, though naive), plus communicating with the operational stakeholders who’d been neglected throughout (and who’d made their thoughts clear).

Effectively, I took over the project and did it as I thought it should be done. In many ways, it was like the previous project I described just last week. I’d explained then the temptation to take over, and ultimately rejected it – but here, now, it had been forced upon me. I didn’t mind.

It was hard work, and particularly so that it required so much talking.

I’ve explained how speech is much more difficult for me now, how it wears me out and how I fear I’ll be misunderstood. Now I was taking the lead, asking questions of the vendor and detailing the help we needed, as well as setting priorities and tasks. I wasn’t aggressive, but the need was pointed. They had let us down and only they could resolve the technical issues. Each hour that passed was critical. We have a hard deadline of about three weeks. If we go beyond that then go-live can’t happen before July.

There were times last week I wished I could stick my hand up someone’s back and talk through them, but no-one would let me. On one occasion I apologised for my ‘afflicted’ speech and briefly explained that it was the effects of my treatment, and it would eventually get better.

It’s like I don’t have full access to my mouth. Some words come without effort, but many times I have to concentrate on enunciating somewhat clearly. It’s the one thing I remain embarrassed about, and frustrated about, too, as communication was one of my strengths. Normally I talk much as I write, though more sparingly. Now I find myself thinking about what I have to say and taking verbal shortcuts.

Ultimately, we made progress. The overlooked parts of the project were updated, and stakeholders were listened to. Unfortunately, UAT went slowly, and it was only late on Friday that the problem was finally identified: the vendor had sent us files with an error in them.

The good news is that finally, we had an answer, and with it, a solution. We got sent new files to upload. But the question was, why were the original files released to us without being properly checked for quality? And why, after all our complaints, did it take them so long to review and find the problem? They’re the questions I’ve left with the Sales Manager.

Not only did I return to full-time work last week, but it was also very intense full-time work. One night I was asleep, fully clothed, by 7.20. I greatly enjoyed the challenge. It’s invigorating. I got immense satisfaction at re-aligning the project and fixing the things that had been annoying me. I got to put my stamp on it and was instrumental in getting the project back on track.

I’m not ready to do that permanently as yet, though. I don’t think I can sustain that effort for too long, not yet. I’ll be glad to hand it back to the PM on Tuesday. I’ve done my bit. I’m satisfied. I expect we’ll go-live in the next fortnight.

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