Developer

How do you avoid being unfairly blamed for project failures?

When a customer refuses to pay for this Web developer's work because it doesn't meet the specs, the developer is left in a lurch. The project problems weren't his fault, but he is still being blamed for the project's shortcomings. What should he do?


Here is this week’s “What would you do?” scenario (all names have been changed).
Ed, a contract Web developer, was subcontracted by Company A to develop a Web site. Company A owned the contract. The end customer, a government organization, instigated a committee to direct the development of the Web site. Unfortunately, this committee included several people who had failed to win the contract for themselves. Despite this, the situation remained tolerable for Ed until the project lead for Company A was replaced by George.

George, a music teacher by training, exhibited a very limited understanding of the issues behind sophisticated, database-driven Web sites. In fact, he had virtually no concept of how the Internet works at all, and whenever there were problems, George immediately assumed that Ed was to blame. Ed couldn’t find any way of making George understand that it was impossible for him to control the Internet end-to-end. As a direct result of George’s inability to understand what Ed can and cannot control, an additional 30 percent more time was needed just to deal with George’s concerns. As a result, the contract was over budget, causing Ed to take a loss equaling 70 days of work. George’s boss absolutely refuses to accept that George was at least partly responsible for the overrun.

Throughout the course of the project, Ed diligently supplied a monthly report of time spent on each aspect of development, the problems encountered, and their resolution. George accepted each report with no adverse comments. But now that the project is complete, George is refusing to pay Ed on the basis that some members of the project committee are dissatisfied with the Web site, as it does not meet their original specification. Ed completely agrees that the Web site does not meet the original specification, but because George gave him explicit instructions contradicting the spec, Ed doesn’t believe this should impact his payment.

If you were in Ed’s situation, what would you do? What recourse does Ed have to demand payment from Company A? Further complicating the situation is the fact that most of the work that Ed’s small company handles is for the same governmental organization that is involved in this situation. In the past, Ed’s company had always maintained a good working relationship with this government organization. In hindsight, what could Ed have done differently to prevent this from occurring?

What would you do?
You can submit your ideas either by e-mail or by posting a discussion item at the end of this column. A week after the publication of a scenario, we'll pull together the most interesting solutions and common themes from the discussion. We will later present them with the situation's actual outcome in a follow-up article. You may continue to add discussion items after the week has elapsed, but to be eligible for inclusion in the follow-up article, your suggestions must be received within a week of the scenario's publication.

How do you deal with a CEO who wants to run the IT department?
Here is a summary of your responses to a previous column that detailed one IT manager’s constant struggles with a micromanaging CEO:

Unfortunately for the IT manager in question, much of the advice offered consisted of some variation of, “It’s time to find another job, you are in a no-win situation.” Several readers reported currently being in, or having been in, remarkably similar situations. Of the constructive advice offered, much of it hinged on whether the company in question was publicly traded, as this fact could most certainly be utilized in the IT manager’s favor if he is capable of demonstrating how the CEO’s inappropriate spending is bad for the shareholders. Independent of whether the company is public or private, other responders suggested the following approach:
Document the CEO’s suggestions, with projected costs and time commitments by members of the IT department. Then, depending on the political structure of the company, present this documentation to one or more of the following:
  • The CEO himself
  • The CFO
  • The board of directors
  • An external consultant, who can then either recommend that the projects be executed or present the reason why they should be stopped
  • A user/VP committee

Other readers suggested that the IT manager ask why the CEO is attempting to manage the department. “Many times, the CEO gets involved when the IT shop isn't responsive to the needs of the enterprise. If it's true that IT is unresponsive, fix the problem. If it’s perception rather than reality, improve your PR work,” said Lothar of The Hill People. Along those same lines, OldeFar suggests that until the IT manager determines what he wants for himself, he does not stand a chance of achieving a satisfactory outcome. “You must determine what will make you happy. This becomes your objective. You then determine what environment is needed to reach your objective. These are your requirements. From there you can develop the solutions to meet the requirements and achieve your objective.”

So what did our micromanaged IT manager actually do? So far, nothing that has had any perceptible effect. But there is a ray of hope. At a recent meeting, the CEO suggested starting some type of user committee to provide feedback to the IT manager to help direct his focus. The CEO indicated that he had not fully thought through the details of the idea but suggested that the IT manager ask for a representative from each department to meet with the IT department on a quarterly basis. The representatives would provide feedback on their degree of satisfaction with the IT department’s ability to fulfill their needs.

Although this is just another example of the CEO’s proclivity for micromanaging the activities of the IT department, the IT manager could possibly turn it to his advantage by eliciting users' support to counteract the CEO’s irrelevant, but resource-consuming, projects.

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