Enterprise Software

Tech is stuck in the middle of VP vs. consultant war

This support tech is serving as a diplomat in the wars between internal clients and outside consultants. She has solved a problem that stumped the consultants, but the political nature of the situation is making her wonder what to do next.


In this month’s scenario we meet Jane, a support tech for a midsize, privately owned manufacturing company, who has been appointed the task of working with external application consultants to install and set up a document management system. Unfortunately, the project has not gone well. Read her story to see if you can help her resolve the tough political issue she's facing.

Jane's story
“The document management project started about 18 months ago. Our sales department was becoming overwhelmed with the sheer quantity of e-mails, attachments, presentations, spreadsheets, and proposals they were attempting to manage. Each member of the department was effectively keeping at least one copy of every document, either in their in-box, on their local hard drive, in their home directory or occasionally, in a shared folder on the network. Version control became a nightmare and the IT department was being constantly bombarded with requests for more disk space, to restore apparently lost or corrupted documents and for an effective method of backing up workstations remotely.

"We suggested that they might need a document management system. We thought our suggestion had been ignored until the IT manager, my boss, was called into a meeting with the VP of marketing, his secretary, a sales representative, and an application consultant for the document management system they had just purchased. The IT manager was stunned that such a significant purchase had been made without the input of the IT department. The marketing VP—a known control freak—was unapologetic, simply informing the IT manager that he needed dedicated IT resources to work with the application consultants to install their new system and migrate all their files. The specs for the project had already been written and signed by both parties.

"The marketing VP’s secretary was appointed project manager and I was told to drop everything to dedicate myself to the project until its completion, working under the direction of the secretary.

"Suspending all judgment on the management of the project and the selected product, I dutifully attended a week of training and then shadowed the application consultant during the initial install and setup. We migrated a test set of documents into the new system, the consultant gave a demonstration to a subset of the users and left. We had a two-week period to test the new system, write up any required changes, then the consultant would return for one day, make the changes and the project would be complete. The only task remaining after this point would be the migration of the remaining documents and end user training.

"Unfortunately, the two-week test period soon became months as more and more problems were discovered. Although some of the issues were genuine technical concerns, the vast majority were simply perceived problems—the system basically did not function the way the marketing VP and secretary had expected it to.

"It did not take long before I became embroiled in the ensuing disputes between the consultants and the VP. Each time the VP’s secretary encountered something which displeased her, she complained to her boss who immediately placed an irate phone call to our account representative demanding an instant solution. The consultants soon wearied of these attacks and started to counter by referring the VP back to the originals specs. Infuriated, the VP demanded that I fix the problems. Some of the issues could be resolved but several could not, because the VP was demanding features that the application simply did not support.

"During all this time I managed to maintain an independent, productive working relationship with the consultants. They seemed to understand the situation and provided me with excellent support. Then the first major crisis hit. Yet another problem was discovered. I unsuccessfully tried to find a resolution. The VP was not satisfied and demanded that the consultants find a resolution. The consultants were not able to do so.

"I continued to pursue the issue alone and eventually found a resolution but do not know how I should proceed. I have thoroughly tested my solution and am confident that it meets the requirements set forth by the VP."

What's the solution?
"As far as I can see there are three alternative courses of action available to me:
  • Do nothing
  • Inform the VP
  • Inform the consultants

"Doing nothing is the politically safest course of action but the least attractive from a technical point of view—there is a fix to the problem so it should be implemented and the consultants informed. Telling the VP would result in the fix being implemented but could have considerable undesirable political consequences. He could become further enraged with the consultants, possibly damaging my relationship with them, which in turn, would adversely affect the project. Sharing the solution with the consultants is the most attractive solution politically and technically, because the fix would be implemented and the consultants could take the credit. The downside to this approach would result in increased loss in the VP’s confidence in the consultants, because he would never trust their evaluation of future issues. The VP, being both paranoid and controlling, would assume that they had been holding out on him but had eventually complied as a result of his insistence.

"I simply do not know how to proceed. If anyone has been in a similar situation or can offer me any advice I would really appreciate it.”

If you were in Jane’s situation, what would you do? If you have any advice to offer Jane, or have been in a similar situation yourself, we want to hear from you.

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