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3/4/2003
02:07 PM
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Secret CIO: Criticize The Plan To Sidetrack The Proposal

One person's flexible strategy is another's imprecise plan.

No matter how tired she is, Cindy tries to make dinnertime special for us. Everything was delicious, but I just picked at my food. Finally, she put her fork down and said, "OK, who broke your bubble, today?"

"Kratmeyer," I answered. "And, Phil, too. He should have supported us, but he didn't." She motioned for me to continue, so I did.

The meeting was about the annual plan. Karen Lovell, our VP of planning, described how each group would develop three scenarios: best case, worst case, and expected results. Ron Segweg, head of domestic operations, commented it was a good approach. Kratmeyer, head of international operations, grimaced and pronounced it a lot of needless extra work and said his people (a phrase I hate) were rewarded for making their negotiated targets and he had "no desire to give them wiggle room."

Our CEO, Phil Whitestone, said Karen's idea was appealing because it would show people's confidence in their projections. Kratmeyer took another tack. Nodding at Phil's wisdom, he asked Karen how she would deal with all the additional data generated. Karen responded that she and I had discussed generating 3-D maps of the results: time, dollars, and confidence level. Kratmeyer smiled and pounced.

He turned in his chair to face me fully. "How sure are you of your numbers? Exactly what will we have to do in the business to make it work?"

I said that while we had to flesh it out, we had a flexible plan to meet the objectives. The final cost would depend on whether we wanted the system Web-enabled, and the business managers' workload would be a function of the amount of detail they entered. In any case, the expenditure would be within a tight range of my estimate.

Kratmeyer stared at me. Pursing his lips slightly (for effect, I think), he sighed and said, "In other words, you don't know what it will cost, and you aren't even sure how it will work. Isn't it fair to say that the costs will increase if the 'needs' (he emphasized the word, sarcastically) of the Planning Department change or if those of us in the business can't do exactly what the two of you want?"

"It seems to me that before we commit to what might be a staff-driven boondoggle, we need to get a clear handle on what is really in store for us. You call it," he said, turning from me to Karen and back again, "flexibility, but I call it imprecise and not clearly thought out."

Phil, as usual when he sees dissension among his senior staff, looked pained. He told Karen and me to produce a report that addressed Kratmeyer's concerns. Kratmeyer couldn't hide the little grin on his face as he picked up his coffee cup in triumph.

"So," I concluded, "Karen and I have to waste a couple of days gratifying Kratmeyer's ego. He knows in the end we'll do the planning the way Karen wants, but he likes making our life more difficult."

Cindy looked at me carefully. "You'll have to do most of that work later, anyway. What's important is that he doesn't see you being the least bit perturbed by his game playing. Besides, you're too good at your job to let someone like him interfere with our time together."

I smiled at her. She always knows the right thing to say. The chocolate tart with the raspberry sauce we had for dessert was delicious.

Herbert W. Lovelace shares his experiences (changing most names, including his own, to protect the guilty) as CIO of a multibillion-dollar international company. Send him E-mail at lovelace@comcast.net.

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