What would you do if you were Chairman of the Board?

One of the golden rules on projects is “Everything is Fine Until It’s Not.”
Large IT projects typically kick off with excitement and fanfare.  Senior executives speak at a town hall meeting to rally the troops.  Software vendor executives and consulting firm partners show up to slap backs, tell jokes and buy dinner.  The project is christened with a galvanizing name, like Project Genesis, The 2020 Project, Vision, well, you get the point.  T-Shirts are distributed to the team members.  The timeframe is 15 months, start to finish, with three months of padding built into the schedule.
Maybe you are a manufacturer implementing ERP or a hospital implementing EMR.  You could be a bank implementing an ATM upgrade or a retailer installing new point-of-sale systems.  The project was approved by the Board and your company is on the way!  Yahoo!
Three months pass.  The teams are working hard!  Discovery workshops are underway.  Hosting is being organized and your development environments are being built.  So far, you’re under budget!  Monthly burn on OpEx was supposed to be $2 million, but it is running at only $1.7 million!
Another three months pass.  No problems but there are rumblings about whether the promised functionality that your CIO used to justify the investment will work properly.  The CIO reassures the board with a slick PowerPoint and everything it rocking and rolling!  Project Optimism is on track!  The first delivery date is only one month away and the proof of concept mockups look great!
Another month passes.  The proof of concept is not quite working and the consultants don’t know why.  The software vendor is not responding in a timely manner and the CIO is at a weeklong event sponsored by a technology magazine.
The chairman of the board calls the CEO asking for an update.  The CEO texts the CIO.  “No more than a two to three week delay,” the CIO returns texts.  “We need to redo a few of the core use cases and then trial them through customer service.”
Another month passes.  The proof of concept is still not working.  Forty percent of the consultants who kicked off the project have been switched away in favor of offshore resources.  Your internal project team members are unwilling to take conference calls at 11PM with India.  Again, the CIO reassures the CEO.
Another month passes.  The new use cases do not accurately represent the needed “to-be” requirements so the CIO asks for them to be adjusted to reflect “as-is” or better said, “as-was.”  The as-was processes are the ones that were defined in the 1984 deployment of the original mainframe system.
Nine months in, the CEO sends an email to the board.  He has the courage not to hide the failure of the proof of concept.  What would you do if you were Chairman of the Board?

Internet for the Homeless

Again, life imitates art.

The New York Times article, with its penetrating photo, tells a story of unchecked technology.  Did New York City luminaries believe that free Internet wouldn’t quickly translate into free porn for the homeless?

In my book, ESCAPING DELETE (published 2012), I introduce Rocco’s Babysitting Services, a.k.a., RoccoLink as an absurd example of Internet excess that brought together “two growing demographics: first, working mothers needing daycare for their young children and, second, homeless people looking for self-improvement and quick cash.”

The following copyrighted material is excerpted with Jon Bellman’s permission.  Do not use, reproduce or transmit.

“RoccoLink launched its feature-packed site. Demand rolled in. RoccoLink rigorously background-screened every homeless applicant and excluded those with felony convictions. The cost for a Rocco’s babysitter was less than half the market rate. Supply was problematic. The homeless had poor Internet access so Jack struck a deal with a handful of wine, cigarette, and snack food companies to subsidize the placement of Internet terminals in homeless shelters and soup kitchens. The steel-footed, urine-proofed, and theft-hardened RoccoLink terminals displayed ads to the homeless while enabling them to secure permanent RoccoLink email addresses, a meaningful step along the path of dignity toward a physical address.

RoccoLink’s calendar program enabled the homeless to schedule their babysitting appointments. The babysitters built up reputation points over time and families had to bid to secure the services of RoccoLink Blue-Ribbon providers. Those babysitters with high reputation points and the most hours billed agreed with RoccoLink to mentor homeless ‘probies’ on their first few jobs. RoccoLink gave its providers vendor sponsored smartphones with directional locators so parents could find their children on a live map, continuously refreshed on the Internet.

By the end of its first year, RoccoLink had fifty-five employees, and a fancy Silicon Alley office complete with Ping Pong tables and Cappuccino machines. RoccoLink was heavily promoted in the media and Jack spoke with bankers about going public. Revenue was running about three hundred thousand per month, mostly in the New York, Chicago, and Miami markets when a handful of lawsuits started to roll in. They were all for petty matters like loitering with strollers for eight hours at a time in Macy’s or Barnes & Noble, and none were related to the quality of the childcare.”


I wrote ESCAPING DELETE…A CEO in the Black Hole to help leaders simplify Information Technology and to avoid expensive and potentially harmful failures.

Burning Batteries

On September 11, 2016 the New York Times reported “In January, the F.A.A. issued a warning that lithium-ion batteries in a cargo hold carried the ‘risk of a catastrophic hull loss’ on an airplane.” http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/13/business/as-more-devices-board-planes-travelers-are-playing-with-fire.html

You could have read about the problem in my book, ESCAPING DELETE, published in 2012.

“The lithium batteries in those laptops caught fire in the plane’s underbelly, causing a leaky oxygen canister to explode beneath the toilet tanks. The explosion punched a fist-sized hole through the plane’s hull.”

From the Times article, “Congress has limited the F.A.A.’s ability to place restrictions on battery-powered devices on airplanes beyond the recommendations of the International Civil Aviation Organization, according to Laura Brown, an F.A.A. spokeswoman. The organization, a United Nations agency, says the devices should not be transported on passenger planes as cargo or in checked baggage…There is no global database with comprehensive information about battery fires from electronic devices in the cabins of passenger airplanes. The F.A.A.’s tally — 19 fires in the last five years.”

From Escaping Delete, “Congressman Chmeat…lobbied hard for the military to buy 3D laptops from Fujohara, even though those laptops heated user’s laps up to one hundred and forty degrees Fahrenheit. (The lobbyists) sued the testing firm and got a gag order preventing publication of the results and their release to the FAA…The Vision System (the overblown, kluge system used to track baggage) generated a loading schema guiding the baggage handlers to load the Fujohara laptops into the hottest part of the cargo hold. Those drug reps didn’t know to power down their computers and the laptops’ sizzling sleep mode temperatures were enough to trigger the fire and explosion.”

I wrote ESCAPING DELETE…A CEO in the Black Hole to help leaders simplify Information Technology and to avoid expensive and potentially harmful failures.

If you want to read more, see below:

The following copyrighted material is excerpted with Jon Bellman’s permission.  Do not use, reproduce or transmit.

Thursday, July 7TH 5:50 PM

Jack Bluto’s white knuckles tore into 25D’s seat bolster. Smoke burned his eyes as he jammed his head between his knees. The first pop – and it was merely that – had occurred twenty minutes ago. Jack had been toying with his smartphone, looking for a ground signal to download his email as MidPoint Airlines Flight 101 descended below 10,000 feet. The pop came five seconds after the two gentle chimes signaled final approach. Jack and the guy across the aisle in 26B picked up their heads and looked at each other. Neither knew what happened, but a mutual glance reassured them both. A minute later 26B was asleep and Jack was scrolling his thumbscrew.

The second noise came from below. A rolling, low-pitched burst of thunder, it was more forceful than deafening. Gray smoke leapt out of the passenger service units as the starboard wing dipped low. Jack’s smartphone flipped out of his hand and slid like a hockey puck along the aisle until it hit the snack cart in the rear galley. What the hell is happening? I don’t give a damn, I just want to live!

Ten seconds later the third explosion blew open the starboard lavatory doors, expectorating the toilet tanks’ contents into the passenger compartment. The overhead bins shook open, lobbing laptops across the aisle. Why no announcements? Where are the flight attendants? Why didn’t I say something when the TA let those two scary looking guys through without checking them? They boarded the flight at the next gate, didn’t they? Why didn’t I pay more attention?

The pilot’s cabin door opened. Two flight attendants came out. I can’t hear what they’re saying! I have to keep my head down. I can’t do anything. Wait, one of those guys is grabbing the flight attendant. I can’t see. Oh please, please, don’t let them be terrorists. Please god, I’ll do anything you want. Anything! The oxygen mask dropped down above Jack, and the retainer string from the mask brushed his lips. He put it on and took a deep, shaky breath.

The plane rolled back to center and steadied. The toilet tanks’ contents that hadn’t landed in laps or pant cuffs settled in the aisle. Jack looked up. Finally! Maybe god listened. Damn it, I hope so. Jack saw a flight attendant straddle the aisle as she climbed atop the armrests of 1C and 1D. Steadying herself with one hand on the roof of the cabin, she pulled a portable megaphone to her lips.

“Stay calm,” she barked. “The pilot is going to make an emergency landing at O’Hare. There was an explosion in the cargo bay. The pilot assures me that we will land safely. Assume the crash position and brace for impact.”

My god, she knows nothing! How does the pilot know we’re going to land safely? Where’s Sully when we need him? Just let me see those houses once we get under the clouds. My head is going to explode. The stench from the flotsam in the aisle was unbearable.

Jack heard the loud “click” of the landing gear locking into place. He squinted through the window and saw cars on the ground. We’ll land in less than two minutes. He held his breath. He always held his breath once he saw the cars and kept it held until the wheels touched.

We’re coming in too hot, too fast. He gasped and ripped off his mask. The wheels hit. They swerved as he gulped the plane’s filthy air. The brakes squealed wildly and the passengers were thrown back and forth. Finally the plane slowed. Whoops and hollers came out of every row. I will live tonight. Thank god!

“Stay in your seats and remain calm,” a voice boomed across the plane’s PA system. “We are awaiting further instructions from ground control. We’ll have you off the plane momentarily.”

Why are they delaying us now? Where are the evacuation slides? Damn it! I can’t breathe this air. Is that my smartphone? Jack reached down into the murky pool covering the aisle. His hand closed around it too easily. “Shit!” 

Thursday, July 7th 9:12 PM

Jack disembarked via the front door. His legs shook as he slowly walked down the stairs onto a runway full of flashing emergency vehicles. The last ray of summer evening sunshine slunk from the sky.

FBI agents and TA dogs sniffed the plane for nearly three and a half hours before releasing the passengers. There had never been a bomb. Rather, five Fujohara 20” 3D laptop computers were loaded into the hottest section of the cargo hold. The lithium batteries in those laptops caught fire in the plane’s underbelly, causing a leaky oxygen canister to explode beneath the toilet tanks. The explosion punched a fist-sized hole through the plane’s hull.

Jack was led past the airport’s chapel to the Incident Recovery Area. Moments later, a man was examining Jack’s hair across the urinal divider in the IRA men’s room. When Jack realized he was being stared at, he looked up and the man cleared his throat uncomfortably and said, “I’m amazed that the plane didn’t blow.”

“Why didn’t it?” Jack yelped, jumping back from the urinal, realizing this was one of the scary-looking guys.

“Because the explosions happened below suck-out altitude,” the man answered, fumbling to show Jack his sky marshal identification badge.

Read the rest of Escaping Delete at Amazon or other booksellers.

A Wartime General Must Lead Your Mission-Critical IT Project

Want your mission critical IT project to succeed? Assign a wartime general to drive it toward a successful outcome.  

In peacetime, when folks have the freedom to dream unencumbered by the harsh constraints of reality, large fantasy projects get pushed by those who are able to politic for the resources. Goals are vague and no one person is accountable.  Budgets are big, timeframes are long, and go-live dates are way down the road.  Consultants, hypotheticals and long meetings are ubiquitous.

A wartime general doesn’t fuss preparing the best-looking slides for a ninety minute bi-weekly steering committee meeting.  He isn’t playing golf with the software vendor’s sales team.  He rarely uses cc: on emails and doesn’t look for buy-in.  He understands that when you amble along in peacetime it’s a lot harder to maintain direction and momentum. There’s no tiger chasing you with his mouth watering, so there are only weak penalties for not keeping up.

A wartime general seeks quick and meaningful results. He tackles the hardest issues first rather than kicking the cans down the road.  He admits when he errs because he requires a culture of acknowledging and addressing mistakes. When uncorrected errors linger because no one accepts blame, the cost and time to get back on track explode.  The wartime general clarifies objectives and doesn’t tolerate whiners.  He constantly adjusts the team to ensure it remains lean, effective and nimble.

Avoid the mistake of assigning the wrong project leader.  Assign a wartime general and incentivize him with a generous bounty for hitting the scope, time and cost objectives for your mission critical IT project.

5 Tips to Reduce IT Project Risks & Costs

Today’s Daily News featured an update on New York City’s infamous CityTime project.  If you haven’t heard, CityTime was the Big Apple’s IT spending orgy.  It was planned as a $60 million payroll automation project, but the cost skyrocketed to $600 million.  Read about it here:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/20/city-time_n_880758.html

While malfeasance was at the core of this rotten apple, C-Level executives can learn from New York City’s mistakes.  Smart leaders avoid computerizing what they don’t understand or can’t envision.  They recognize that increasing complexity translates to more IT cost and risk.

Here are five tips to lower IT project cost and risk:

  1. Convert Less Data – Data conversion is messy and expensive.  Other than critical data or government mandated records, why invest in converting data that will have little value in the future?  The more data converted, the more hours spent cleansing that data.  Convert only what you need to help run the organization going forward.
  2. Test Later – Like data, testing is critical, but too much can be bad.  Too often, legions of testers will run through complex testing scripts and then a scope change negates the value of the test.  Run your tests once scope has been locked down.
  3. Avoid Vendor Boondoggles – Vendor sponsored conferences with rock stars, golf tournaments and so-called learning events are all designed to persuade IT leaders to spend more money.  Avoid these boondoggles.
  4. Say No to the Bait & Switch – Your lead consultant was just reassigned to another client, and your consulting firm’s partner tells you that the transition to his replacement will be seamless.  Negotiate for a refund for the learning curve investment your organization made in that first consultant
  5. Don’t Pay for Partner Time – When the head honcho from the vendor spends a day at your site, recognize that he’s probably there to sell you more software or services.  Check your invoice to ensure his selling time is not being billed to you.

IT projects are more likely to succeed when the scope is simple, the team is lean, and the timeframe is short.  Often a high-risk, multi-threaded complex project can be reconstructed as a sequence of linear, lower-risk short-term projects.