Project Killers: PSI -Project Scene Investigation “A Case of Slow Death”

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It’s late in the evening in Los Empresas, TX. Even the most dedicated employees at Pastells, Inc. have abandoned their desks, secured their laptops, and joined the sinuous stream of cars on I-47 headed for anywhere but work. Only five grim faced men and women remain around a table in a conference room; the executive steering committee for Project Uplift.   Project Uplift is the CRM project that will propel Pastells into market dominance.   A silver-haired gentleman, Oliver Pastell, jumps from his chair, obviously agitated, pointing excitedly at the screen where the final slide of the executive review still glows. “What this slide tells me,” He shouts “is that Project Uplift is dead!” In the silence that ensues, no one can disagree.

Dead projects are common in Los Empresas. It’s our job to investigate them and bring the killer to justice. Call me Mike, an engagement manager with PSI, Inc.; it’s my pleasure to head up the investigation team. Morgan is my project manager, she’s best at organizing the facts and keeping the team on task. She won’t quit as long as the killer remains at large. Ajay is my architect; he can follow any thread in the investigation and flesh out the facts, determine the probabilities, and plot the next steps. My developers, Harish and Jason, are equipped with the latest tools and training to analyze the evidence and synthesize the facts that either support or disprove our theories on the killer’s identity.

The Project Uplift case came to us the next morning. Ajay, Morgan, and I met to discuss the case over a box of Krispy Kremes and a ½ gallon of hot coffee. “Mike, what do we know about the project?” Ajay managed between bites. I shook my head, “Based on what I have seen so far, this one is a bit baffling. The project had a clear charter, it had good support from the Pastells executives, the plan was pretty well developed and clear, and the objective and scope were understood and well communicated.” Morgan chimed in, “That sounds like a healthy project, what about the people working on it?” I quickly reviewed the list forwarded from Pastells, “It appears that the project team included consultants from the Nopuedes Group, the Pastells Project Manager, Maria Ansiosos, some Business Analysts, some Subject Matter Experts from the business, and the CIO, Raul Espere.” Ajay spoke first, “I know some folks at Nopuedes, and I’ll talk to the project PM.” “Morgan, see if you can speak with Maria,” I directed “and I will send the project documentation to Harish and Jason to see if they can find anything we’ve missed.” I reviewed the list again, “I’m not sure how much the CIO Raul will want to talk to me, it looks like this project was his brain child and he might be like a father in mourning, but I’ll do my best.”

My appointment with Raul is set for later this afternoon; I decide to stop by the developer’s bullpen on my way out. I settle into an office chair next to Jason, grab an Old Dutch pretzel from the open tub and ask, “Anything suspicious, yet?” Jason turns to the keyboard, after a few strokes he turns the monitor towards me. “All of the documents that we have are in order. “ He shows me the original Statement of Work from Nopuedes, the project charter, the budget, the project plan, the requirements, the design, the testing plans, and the resource list before I stop him. “Are you saying that there is nothing wrong?” Harish chimes in, “What we are saying is that there is nothing wrong with what we have been sent, but there is something very import missing – the RAID!” “You mean the Risks, Action Items, Issues, and Decisions log?” I clarify. Harish beams, “Correct! Why did they provide all of the other project artifacts, but leave out the RAID log for Project Uplift?” I look at my watch, time to leave to meet with CIO Raul, and that will be one of the first questions I ask.

“Thanks for meeting me on such short notice.” Ajay says as he shakes hands with Jorge, the Nopuedes PM. Jorge laughs ruefully, “With Project Uplift dead, my calendar was suddenly clear!” “I am just as interested in finding the killer as you are, Ajay, Project Uplift seemed to be a real winner and so important for Pastells.” Ajay continues to keep Jorge talking, “So the demise of the project came as a complete surprise?” Jorge scratches his chin and screws his mouth into a wry smile, “No, Ajay, not a complete surprise, there were rumblings and grumblings but nothing definite.”   Ajay pounces, “Grumblings about what?” Jorge considers his answer carefully. “I can only say what I heard from Maria, the Pastells PM. She told me that the subject matter experts and business analysts thought ‘things’ were taking too long. When I asked her what ‘things’ she was vague. I got the vibe that she was protecting someone. Find that someone and you will find the killer.” Ajay saw no reason to pull his punch, “So you’re saying I could look at your internal project documents and you would have nothing to hide?” Jorge pauses, turns his laptop towards Ajay, “I was just about to do that review myself, you’re welcomed to help.” Ajay starts the review and hopes that Morgan can get some answers from Maria. He jerks the iPhone 6 from his pocket and dials…

“I don’t know what more I can provide than we provided by email this morning”, Maria Ansiosos stated tersely. “I hope you can appreciate that we are busy at Pastells trying to pick up the pieces.” Morgan knows that this is a sensitive subject for the Pastells PM, but she also knows that Maria has important information. “I just want to hear from you why you think Project Uplift died; we’ll be talking to everyone involved.” “I don’t deal in speculation,” Maria replies in clipped, frosty tones. Morgan decides a direct approach will work best, “I just spoke to my teammate Ajay, he heard from Jorge at Nopuedes that you had a conversation with Jorge and that the Pastells team believed ‘things’ were moving too slowly. Were you implying that Nopuedes was to blame?” Maria’s face turns ashen, “No, Jorge and his team did the best they could under the circumstances.”  Morgan moves closer to Maria, “What were the circumstances?” Maria’s shoulders slump, she starts in a low whisper, “I expect every project to have different circumstances, but we’ve been through many projects at Pastells successfully despite that.” Maria stands, turns her head, and with her voice rising declares, “I love my job, I need this job, and I am good at what I do.  I didn’t kill Project Uplift and I don’t know who did!” Morgan follows Maria’s eyes and sees that they are firmly fixed on a nameplate on the corner office door. She slides the Galaxy S6 edge from her pocket, dials and speaks quietly when the phone is answered.

My first impression of Raul Espere is that he looks like a man who has just lost a son or perhaps a brain child. His eyes are bloodshot; his clothes have obviously been on his body for at least the last 36 hours.  The coffee mug in his left hand trembles as he reaches to shake mine.  “Mike, I know I look like hell, but Oliver Pastell wants answers about Project Uplift, and he wants them now. I’ve been up all night pulling together information for him.” From the tone of Raul’s voice, I can tell this isn’t the first all-nighter he’s pulled for Oliver; I decide to follow that line of questioning right after I clear up the number one question on my mind. “Raul, you sent us every other project document, why not the RAID log?” Raul looks over his mug at me, and then he slowly sets it down. “Can you excuse me for a minute?” I watch as Raul speaks quietly with his administrative assistant, he returns to the room and carefully closes the door. “Mike, the RAID was withheld because it contained sensitive Pastells information, I had originally included it in the packet, but after review a decision was made to keep it in house.” I hide my initial surprise, “Who did the review, Raul?” “The executive steering committee,” Raul immediately replies. “The whole committee?” I ask, “Or is there one very important member who might have made that decision?” Raul simply sips his coffee, though I can see he is about to explode. I continue, “What was on that log that could be so important? From what I heard from Ajay and Morgan, the PM’s had done a good job of identifying risks and issues and ways to avoid and mitigate them. Harish and Jason have verified that the plan was resource loaded and action items were included. Raul, that only leaves – Decisions!” Raul blurts out to stop me, “I made every decision asked of me, I weighed the facts, gathered opinions, brainstormed solutions, and delivered decisions!” I could tell he was telling the truth, but not all of it. “I believe you Raul, but without that RAID, there really is no evidence of that. I know that this project was your brain child, that you mourn the death of Project Uplift more than anyone else, but that’s no reason to let your career go to the grave with it.” His weary head with the blood shot eyes lifts towards me and then turns to the corner office. “Let me guess and see how close I come,” I continue “they key member of the executive steering committee that decided not to send us the RAID log was Oliver! I can only guess at how many late nights you’ve spent feeding him information waiting on a decision only to be asked for more time and information. I bet that when the RAID surfaces, and we will dig until we find it, it will be red with decisions waiting on Oliver.” Raul slowly pulls open a desk drawer and lifts out a thick Pendaflex folder, clearly marked Project Uplift. From the center of the folder he extracts a printout of an Excel spread sheet that looks like a RAID log. He hands it to me and begs quietly, “This is what you need, be careful how you use it.”

Oliver Pastell is gracious as he invites my team from PSI, Inc. to take a seat. Ajay and Morgan find conference chairs to my left while Harish and Jason choose the leather couch to be closer to the box of See’s chocolates. I can hear the candy wrappers rustling as Oliver starts to speak. “What have you uncovered with your investigation?” I decide ‘careful’ is the right approach, “Mr. Pastell, Oliver, we understand that this is your first major project as the CEO, is that correct?” Oliver is obviously discomforted by the question, “Yes it is.” I follow with, “In fact, you only recently returned to Los Empresas and took control of Pastells after your brother was killed in a private plane crash.” Oliver leans forward, hands on desk, “What does that have to do with Project Uplift?” Just then Jason blurts out, “Project Uplift died because you didn’t make the timely decisions on project direction when they were needed, a clear case of Death by Indecision.” So much for a ‘careful’ approach. Oliver looks at Jason, then Harish, Ajay, Morgan and finally me. It is clear to him that we all agree with Jason that he is suffering from severe Analysis Paralysis. Finally he speaks, “Ever since that night I learned Project Uplift had died, I had a nagging feeling it was my fault. How can I avoid this in the future?”   As always, we are prepared to help keep Project Killers at bay and I hand Oliver a reprint of a decision making article from David Ingram:

Identify Problems

The first step in the process is to recognize that there is a decision to be made. Decisions are not made arbitrarily; they result from an attempt to address a specific problem, need or opportunity.

Seek Information

Managers seek out a range of information to clarify their options once they have identified an issue that requires a decision. Managers may seek to determine potential causes of a problem, the people and processes involved in the issue and any constraints placed on the decision-making process.

Brainstorm Solutions

Having a more complete understanding of the issue at hand, managers move on to make a list of potential solutions. This step can involve anything from a few seconds of thought to a few months or more of formal collaborative planning, depending on the nature of the decision and the time allotted to make it.

Choose an Alternative

Managers weigh the pros and cons of each potential solution, seek additional information if needed and select the option they feel has the best chance of success at the least cost. Consider seeking outside advice if you have gone through all the previous steps on your own; asking for a second opinion can provide a new perspective on the problem and your potential solutions.

Implement the Plan

There is no time to second guess yourself when you put your decision into action. Once you have committed to putting a specific solution in place, get all of your employees on board and put the decision into action with conviction. That is not to say that a managerial decision cannot change after it has been enacted; savvy managers put monitoring systems in place to evaluate the outcomes of their decisions.

Evaluate Outcomes

Even the most experienced business owners can learn from their mistakes. Always monitor the results of strategic decisions you make as a small business owner; be ready to adapt your plan as necessary, or to switch to another potential solution if your chosen solution does not work out the way you expected.

We stand to leave, and Oliver walks with us to the door. I turn to him with one last piece of advice, “The most valuable decisions are not only well informed, but are also timely as well.” As the door closes behind me, I smell the unmistakable scent of dark chocolate enrobed salted caramel from the stolen box of Sees. It is delicious!

This case is closed.

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

This blog was written by Jim Lindenfeld, who has been actively involved in customer relationship management during his entire professional career.  He is a certified sales and sales management trainer.  He has been involved in the implementation of CRM systems since 1987 and is currently a principal consultant in our CRM practice.

Illustration created and provided by Jonathan Pike, eVerge Group IT Specialist.