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Abandon ship? Or ride out the storm?
April 15, 2002, 09:00 a.m. ET
By Barbara Steinberg

A global company more than 100 years old was purchased by a venture capital group of dot-com Generation Xers. Their mission: to build brand mystique through publicity, and to launch an initial public offering that would deliver a 12-to-1 return on their investment within 24 to 36 months. Generation X was dreaming of a big payday.

The Gen Xers eliminated the infrastructure and all traditional products and introduced a new product range directed at consumers half the age of the company's traditional customer base. After replacing 90% of the old organization, a new global enterprise resource planning (ERP) system was being developed that would solve all of its problems. Of course, it depended almost completely on third-party consulting.

When sales began to plummet after nine months and the venture capital group wanted out, another downsizing occurred to give potential buyers the impression of a lean company with low expenses and no debt.

Consulting the Community

In need of validation, the Executive Suite member caught in this web of chaos wrote to the discussion boards: "Uninformed, independent decision-making rules the day. There is no consideration for ramifications or end result, while unrealistic expected outcomes are dictated daily. This is an incredibly dynamic scenario; we are developing a global ERP system, but we are not sure who the final end users are, what their responsibilities will be or where they will be located! The timeline for this project is Oct. 1, 2001, to March 1, 2002. Do you think the expectations of management and the ultimate end users are realistic or have any chance of being met?"

At some points in our lives, we all come to timeless forks in the philosophical road: Do you fight? Or do you preserve your sanity and retreat from an impossible situation? Our IT leader's peers answered the call.

Ken Venner (right): If management does not understand the implications of what they are driving, this looks like a train wreck in motion, and one I would not want to be sitting on.

Michaele D. Rachlin (left): This is either a chance for you to step up to a leadership role, making your management aware of what is needed and coordinating all the variables, or to step aside, because there will be finger-pointing, blaming and sacrificial slaughter at the end.
Paul Bruno: I guess this is just more evidence of the epidemic that rages worldwide in our profession of unrealistic expectations: too-limited resources vs. a universe of wants.

Scott Fisher: Well!!! I have done a few ERPs myself and thought that I have had experiences. My vote is no. If you want some good stories, read Death March, a book by [Ed] Yourdon on where you are.

William K. Wray (right): It's incumbent on IT/project leadership to clearly communicate that failure is impending and that certain steps are necessary to avert it. ... I can tell even from the way the question is phrased that there is a defeatist outlook at work. Does IT not play a part in guiding "the expectations of management"? If it doesn't, and it can't, then go work somewhere else or learn to communicate.
Gregory A. Mathes (left): If no one in IT is thought of as an executive-caliber business partner, there's not much chance of leading this directive to success. Best wishes on your job search!
Bob Schwartz (right): If I did not know better, this poor person is telling us a joke. It is hard for me to believe that any intelligent life form would think that success is possible. I would be looking somewhere else, soon.

Rod Aguilar: I'd take on this challenge with the mind-set that I can't possibly fail, [since] anything I achieve in the tight time frame and the near-impossible conditions would be a sweet victory over chaos.

Joseph A. Puglisi (left): The question again, as Mr. Wray points out, is whether you can convince them that the unintended longer-term result will be a decline in revenues through lost sales or reduced customer service.

Dan P. Boncher: I agree with Ken. Next stop is the slaughterhouse.

Bruce Barnes (right): This effort is so out of control that even a blind man could see it. No one will win here.

Mike Howard (left): Oh yes, there will be a winner. It's just unlikely to be anyone who currently has a finger in the pie. Some lucky person will get a golden career-enhancing opportunity to "sort this IT mess out."

CJ Rhoads (left): Hi, Mike, you are right. The turnaround specialists win in these circumstances. Of course, that's assuming the business will continue.

Steve McDowell (right): I wouldn't jump ship, but I would be communicating with everyone to find some executive help and put some realistic expectations on the table.

Francois A. Dumas (left): Perhaps getting an experienced and seasoned "external" moderator in would not be a bad idea. Someone from outside just might be able to open some eyes.

Andrew Papandreadis: If the date does not move, or you don't have the business support to reshape the project, or the business priorities have shifted, then you go to management and recommend that the project be killed. ... The easiest thing to do is walk away.

Bob Palmer (right): The organization seems like it's in chaos. You don't know who your users are, there's no project team with clearly defined roles and responsibilities, you have multiple projects occurring at the same time, no money and six months to implement the system. More like bizarro world.

Our member was extremely grateful for these responses. The community helped someone mired in a world of hurt step back and regain confidence. But sometimes there's nothing anyone can do to stop a runaway freight train. Here's the third and final chapter of "Anonymous Story," written by the member as a prelude to the discussion question that lurks beneath it.

Epilogue: The Politics Are Thick

My time is short. Once this "impossible" ERP implementation is complete in one country, my position will be eliminated (after 16 years of service), according to the plan that domestic management has submitted. I have little to lose at this point, so I reach out to the global CIO and COO.

I plead for reasonable thinking with regard to the project's implementation.

My actions:

  • Recruit a steering committee.

  • Get executives' commitment for time necessary and project participation.

  • Develop a timeline of key deliverables and necessary milestones.

  • Make public realistic and necessary costs.

  • Get the development team to work on-site for most of the remaining project timeline, and after it goes live.

  • Get process maps and test scripts developed and into the hands of key users.

  • Get a conceptual data communications solution agreed upon in theory.

  • Get agreement on coordination and time frame for the new datacom backbone rollout.

  • Raise issues still to be addressed in the tactical rollout of the point-of-sale phase.

Development over the past 30 days has shown remarkable promise. However, I am soon informed that the sitting domestic CEO and CFO will soon be dismissed, as well as a significant group of other middle managers who were initially brought in.

The politics are thick, and the exiting group is stirring the pot. "Is it incompetence or sabotage?" the group asks. The remaining players are jockeying for position, forming new alliances, hoping to survive the exodus -- little or no collaboration; no one is to be trusted!

I feel like I am on a track with two trains rushing at me from either direction. I probably have committed career suicide, knowing my future here is doubtful. Every day becomes more painful. I will at least depart feeling I gave it my best shot.

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Sometimes, anonymity promotes honesty. And that's what an IT leader got when seeking validation from Executive Suite peers about surviving new ownership and its effects on IT. Next up for discussion: "How to Survive New Ownership 101."



  Discussion  >  Archives   >  Careers Archives 

Abandon ship? Or ride out the storm?

From the member who launched the discussion: I treasure the community members’ input from the first article. Yet, I would also like to ask them – now that they know the preamble to the situation – what might have been done early on after the takeover by the VC group that might have prevented the aftermath? And, did I do the right thing in basically sacrificing my job to salvage a bad situation?

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