Tuesday, March 6, 2007

How much time it takes to release a new product?

California, USA.

In a luxurious conference room sit the CEO and his creative quartet:
VP Marketing, COO, CIO, VP Sales.

On the eastern wall - a giant plasma screen. You can see there CNN and FOX news.
You can also see there real time indicators on the company: Sales sums, call counts, max holding times in the call-center, goals vs execution, colors, graphs, etc., amazing!.

We look at the white board - a red list of topics is crossing it.
The idea was to seat a few days and assemble a list - we sat two hours.

Two day earlier I got a call from Charles.
Charles is an interesting merge between Seinfeld and a kibbutznik.
If you bump into Seinfeld in San Francisco - there is a good chance you met Charles.
If you see Seinfeld with Jeans, Crocs, Square flannel shirt half inside the pence half out - it is Charles.

He said on the phone: "Hi, I set up a week-long meeting, starting on Monday. We talk about our problems her and we think you should manage it. You need help in something?"

I am always happy to meet Charles - "I'll check and get back to you ...". I knew it is already lost ...

"Ah Ah, Well, it is Saturday evening at your place, it might be a good idea to pack and get a Taxi to the airport, see you on Monday, bye."

Charles works in an American company that gives financial services.
He is the CIO.

"New product time-to-market - 12 months!"

This is the first red point, in bold with font-36 (it is a gadget white board. of-course it is.)

Why? - many reasons, excuses, stories.

The CEO wants to shoot somebody. "It is unbelievable!!!" he barks.
He got a company with large turnovers, profitability was OK. He didn't come for that.
Growth. This is what the board wants. This is why he is here.
The company is not growing for years, he needs to bring growth. Period.

VP marketing - a marketing genius brought by the CEO - he and his crazy team has zillions of good ideas. He looks nervousely at Charles.

The VP Sales draws the smallest phone/camera/computer/Patriot in the northern hemisphere, looks at it and say: "American asks why not begin in two months, they will be ready in the end of the month".

Every product of the company should be supported by information system with maximum level of reliability, maximum level of concurrency, maximum level of availability (unavailability is a disaster). Everyone would like that, not everyone can afford it. In this company the budget was not an issue. They will spend anything to get it done.

The information systems infrastructure is AS/400 (every couple of years IBM changes the name...) and COBOL - and it goes all the way to the Plasma.

The systems are remarkably available, concurrent, reliable. The control is Amazing!
For now.

Changes? Not so fast ...
They have tens of millions lines of code.
It takes 10-20 months to put a new programmer into the code.
It takes 100 days to insert a minor change and verify nothing was damaged from the change.
Every year, 4-5 programmers are retired.

A new product? One year is considered an achievement.

Charles got two months to create solution plans. He also got a new product and had to implement it in two months (usually you don't say no to American Express).

First thing Charles did was changing from Crocs to Clogs.
First thing Charles said was: "I don't know what's worse: sweat smell in a car, feet smell after a day in Crocs, our information systems, or the phone call you are going to do with your wife..."

To be continued ...

(Clue: what is more simple - one large and complex problem or three small and not so complex problems. Or - how did NASA got to the moon?)

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

CEO! You think you have an agenda?

Agendas - Part I

This is a story about a very serious company, with a serious CEO. The CEO understands (?!) the significant impact of the information systems on the organization he runs.

The CEO recruited the best CIO and COO money can buy.

They recruited an extremely talented project manager to make a dramatic improvement in the way the operational systems are working.

Lets talk about the agenda of this talented project manager.
What does this guy want? Obvious - money, compensations, bonus, status.

Whats important for this discussion is that basically he wants to advance (like everyone, like you!) and indeed, ambition is not a bad character at all.

So where can a project manager can be promoted to?
A bigger project manager, a manager of managers, a manager of a strategic project,
a manager of a larger group of people, a CIO, etc.

And how does a project manager get to be promoted?
Ahhhhhh... Some bells are ringing? ...

Like everyone, a project manager needs successes to get the promotion (and we already mentioned how talented he is). Organizational politics are important but we will discuss it
in later posts. So whats hidden in his agenda?

Like everyone, like your CV, his CV is a key factor in the career next step. Lets say his CV says:
"3 successful projects" and "very talented" with details about how good he is about the recent technologies/buzz - are you impressed? (...are you?)

How about the next CV:
"SAP ERP project, with so-many people, with so-much budget, 20K man-years, adjustments and modifications, working with the developers and product managers (wow), strategic for the company with the guidance of the CEO ..., and very talented ..."

Sounds better isn't it?
Imagine the same CV with 3 projects like that, he can be a great CIO can't he?
Lets talk with the guy!

So, don't be surprised if all you want was about improving the operational systems (like maybe releasing a product without waiting for the IT to do six months of preparations...)
and you end up with:
A project that cost millions of dollars more than you ever expected,
A few nervous employees,
A year too late,
A completely changed company since this is how the system works,
You are stuck with a system that every pips costs a fortune,
The project is not finished (will it ever?),
and who knows how much you lost, how much you are loosing every minute, and what did you gain exactly?


When IT systems work - it can be an enormous driver to your company, a good project may take your company to amazing places.

Are you familiar with this situation, that you invested loads of dollars in a project, it is not finished, he won't be a success but "come on - lets Finnish it! we can live with it for a while...", it is stuck in the middle of your throat, "what will happen if we stop it?", "and what about my CV? and the board of directors? and the share holders?!
I need it to succeed!!!
Everyone need it to succeed!!! and I don't care if they are chocking when they are talking about how successful is the project!", and every management meeting decide about spending more money on the project otherwise ...

You're not familiar with this situation? Lucky you.

The talented project manager? - he is a VP at your competitor.
He got it since he is extremely talented. He also had a CV that mentioned a very large and successful project at your place.

How is that for an agenda?