Strategic CIO // Team Building & Staffing
Commentary
5/13/2014
12:36 PM
Bennett Quillen
Bennett Quillen
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When IT Pros Don't Cut The Mustard

Before it comes to a transfer or pink slip, every IT project manager should take these steps.

support procedures, or they were performing them lackadaisically. After meeting with the individuals and setting performance criteria, we turned the situation around. 

However, the infrastructure staffers were a different issue. They simply didn't understand the full complexity and scope of telecommunications for the organization. So I redefined their jobs, let three people go, and brought in a facilities firm to manage the function.

Another company was making major changes to how it delivered electronic banking products to both its retail and commercial customers, affecting bill payment, ATMs, point of sales, wires, etc. The manager of the team charged with rolling out and converting all of the company's electronic products was swamped with his regular day-to-day activities as well as the many new responsibilities for this project. He and his team were falling behind schedule. We developed a two-pronged approach, whereby I helped with some of the tasks, and senior management assigned another experienced individual to work under him for the project. The result was a successful effort.

Another department manager at the same bank had a different challenge: As a recent transfer into her position, she wasn't well versed in all of its functions. Yet we still depended upon her department for a series of projects. In this case, I advised her to find a subject matter expert in the organization with whom she could work. We assigned a co-worker from another department for the remaining five months.

How do you handle a situation where a high-ranking individual is responsible for the success of a project but can't cope with its requirements? I faced this situation when I was called in to convert a company to a new set of core applications within six months. The clock was ticking. It was clear after about two weeks that the CIO wasn't prepared to make timely decisions on key tasks.

I discussed my concerns with the individual and laid out what was needed and when, but the situation didn't improve. He was either unable to deal with all of the changes or was trying to focus on all of the tasks -- more than 2,000 of them -- to make decisions. There was no alternative: I had to talk with the president of the company, because the project was in jeopardy. I recommended that the CIO be sidelined, if possible. The president's solution was to place the individual on a leave of absence and replace him with one of his key subordinates. 

Every situation and individual is unique. There's no one-size-fits-all solution. The key is to identify the source of the problem and resolve it quickly and creatively. Sometimes you have to take the position of solving today's problem and let tomorrow's problem take care of itself.

Trying to meet today's business technology needs with yesterday's IT organizational structure is like driving a Model T at the Indy 500. Time for a reset. Read our Transformative CIOs Organize For Success report today. (Free registration required.)

Bennett Quillen, a former CIO for a leading mutual fund processing firm, has more than 35 years of experience in financial industry technology, operations, cash management, and compliance. Today he provides financial institutions with project management and technology advice, ... View Full Bio

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bquillen280
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bquillen280,
User Rank: Strategist
5/14/2014 | 3:51:28 PM
Re: Trust but Verify, in Underperforming Project Team Members
Boy, I have to watch my typing!  Dogcat,  Thank you for your excellent response and additional comments, citing some of the challenges you have had.  It is never easy to manage a complex project, especially as an "outsider", is it?  Bennett
bquillen280
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bquillen280,
User Rank: Strategist
5/14/2014 | 3:48:29 PM
Re: Trust but Verify, in Underperforming Project Team Members
Dogcat,  Thank you for yourexellnt response and additional comments, citing some of the challenges you have had.  It i never easy to manage a complex project, especially as an "outsider", is it?  Bennett
dogcat
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dogcat,
User Rank: Guru
5/14/2014 | 11:35:34 AM
Trust but Verify, in Underperforming Project Team Members
I certainly must concur with most of this article; I too have worked as contractor project manager where you parachute into a difficult project. I have frequently thought about why companies bring in outside PMs, especially on large critical projects. I gues they may not have in-house PM capabilities, but why not develop them as in-house people will have orgainzational and political knowledge an outside PM must take time to master. Maybe it's easy to blame an outside PM if a doomed project fails. But, I was bothered by the "Trust but Verify" guidance. The Gipper, former president Reagan, used this in the Cold War context in dealing with the Soviet Union. Recently my boss used that on me when he repeatedly did not believe me when I reported information on an 'as-is' assessment. My source was a high ranking end user SME who had actually built the rogue systems in question. I refused to go back to this executive and ask the same question he had already answered multiple times. In this relationship, the SME and I had established a professionall level of trust. My boss set up a in person meeting with the SME, who then demonstrated on the desktop PC the rogue system he had developed, because the IT shop. my boss's boss, had refused to help the executive.

Verification is a standard process step(s) in mature systems engineering and should be done in routine way in all things. That's why we have PDR, CRDs, milestones, reviews, control gates, etc. These are not being done because of some 'trust' factor, but because as humans developing complex systems, we discipline ourselves, bosses too, in subjecting our work to critical review and ongoing assessment, thest check, verify, cycle. It has nothing to do with trust, and to introduce this cold war advesarial relationship term into a team is just another example of inmature, shaddy management practice.
dogcat
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dogcat,
User Rank: Guru
5/14/2014 | 11:35:08 AM
Trust but Verify, in Underperforming Project Team Members
I certainly must concur with most of this article; I too have worked as contractor project manager where you parachute into a difficult project. I have frequently thought about why companies bring in outside PMs, especially on large critical projects. I gues they may not have in-house PM capabilities, but why not develop them as in-house people will have orgainzational and political knowledge an outside PM must take time to master. Maybe it's easy to blame an outside PM if a doomed project fails. But, I was bothered by the "Trust but Verify" guidance. The Gipper, former president Reagan, used this in the Cold War context in dealing with the Soviet Union. Recently my boss used that on me when he repeatedly did not believe me when I reported information on an 'as-is' assessment. My source was a high ranking end user SME who had actually built the rogue systems in question. I refused to go back to this executive and ask the same question he had already answered multiple times. In this relationship, the SME and I had established a professionall level of trust. My boss set up a in person meeting with the SME, who then demonstrated on the desktop PC the rogue system he had developed, because the IT shop. my boss's boss, had refused to help the executive.

Verification is a standard process step(s) in mature systems engineering and should be done in routine way in all things. That's why we have PDR, CRDs, milestones, reviews, control gates, etc. These are not being done because of some 'trust' factor, but because as humans developing complex systems, we discipline ourselves, bosses too, in subjecting our work to critical review and ongoing assessment, thest check, verify, cycle. It has nothing to do with trust, and to introduce this cold war advesarial relationship term into a team is just another example of inmature, shaddy management practice.
bquillen280
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bquillen280,
User Rank: Strategist
5/14/2014 | 7:14:52 AM
Re: Mustard?
Thank you for your comments, but I think you need to check your idioms. There is of course the phrase: "pass muster", as in troops that need to pass muster. But, there is also the idiom: cannot "cut the mustard". So, the title is quite correct and to use a British phrase: "spot on"!
anon6345729928
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anon6345729928,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/13/2014 | 10:49:08 PM
Mustard?
Uhm you really want to retitle this article. The term is "Cut the muster" or really "Cut muster"

 

See: http://grammarrule.blogspot.com/2006/11/english-grammar-rule-cut-muster-or.html

 

I dont think your grammar passes muster.. :)
bquillen280
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bquillen280,
User Rank: Strategist
5/13/2014 | 2:51:10 PM
Re: Leave Of Absence
Yes; as a matter of fact, the individual took early retirement shortly thereafter.
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
5/13/2014 | 2:33:58 PM
Leave Of Absence
I'm curious, Bennett: Whatever happened to that CIO who was placed on a leave of absence and replaced with a subordinate? Did he end up leaving the company shortly thereafter?
 
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