Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Mistakes R Us

One of the things I do as an IT geek is manage software projects. Other times I train people on new software. Sometimes it’s a little of both. (I actually do whatever computer-geeky thing people want and are willing to pay for and I actually know how to do. But the subject today is project management.)

Part of the process of changing software is parallel testing of the new system. That’s where you do everything on both the legacy (old) system, and the new system, and compare results. Everything should match exactly – any exceptions should be known, expected, documented.

I have one client where my role is a little blurry – I do mostly training, not as much project managing. But it turns out one of the people I’ve been working with really didn't understand parallel testing (apparently). And it never occurred to me to explain it to her in detail, since she appeared to be doing everything a person would do during parallel. Whenever I’d show up, she'd have a list of discrepancies to work on, and she said lots of things like "Other than that, it's looking really good" and “Everything seems to be matching very well.”

When I asked how X or Y or Z are going, she always had the right answers. Clearly, tho, I needed to be asking some more basic questions, like “Are all the people who were paid on the legacy system being correctly paid in the new system?”

Now, a project manager would have had a meeting months ago to go over the parallel process, establish the parallel schedule and procedure, and define acceptance criteria for the various modules and pieces of the project.

I didn’t do that, partly since I’m only there every couple of weeks, and there are others there every day who set my agenda/schedule (and I did give *them* checklists, etc, and *they* understand parallel perfectly), so I guess I just assumed that kind of communication had taken place. I’m doing the same software multiple times at the same site, and it wasn’t necessary for me to do this for any of the other people I worked with there.

No one in this client’s position has ever NOT understood parallel before. And it felt exactly like every other implementation I've ever done. I've never had anyone say they felt good about a payroll (for example) where the new system was missing paychecks, or entire employees, etc. How could you not check that? How could that be okay?

It’s kind of like being hired to come in and help someone learn the landscaping business. You show up every few days and teach them about some aspect of the business – designing flower beds one day, types of grass seed the next day, caring for your equipment the next. Then after 3 months, you discover that the person was just picking houses at random to take care of, instead of the ones they had contracts with. That *is* a part of the business, yes, and this person has never done this before, true, but still – it just never occurred to you to check something that basic.

But anyway, it makes me look really bad, like I’m not on top of things. And clearly, I’m not. Or at least, when they communicated their expectations of my role, I wasn’t listening very well. One of the reasons they fired their last person was that they didn’t take charge, so in hindsight I definitely should have taken a more active role in managing the implementation.

We’ll get it sorted out, and they’ll go live on schedule, but still. This is somewhat worse than being held scoreless last weekend. Crap.


At Tue Dec 21, 03:27:00 PM PST, Blogger anya ransuns aka Roxy said...

Augh, that sounds not good. I have no advice for you but maybe you should get your mom to write you a note. My mom, as it happens, has consistently offered such a service to me for each and every mishap, mistake, unhappy twist of fate I've ever faced, from being too sick to go to school to, you know, not really wanting to take the CA Bar Exam. It's worth a shot!

At Tue Dec 21, 03:52:00 PM PST, Blogger unca said...

I'm with anya. Note writing by mother is very underrated in this day and age. My father was always willing to write a note but I had to weigh the advantage of getting out of the messary situation with the embarassment of handing in a note from my dad. Anyway, I don't think it's yet been tried in the corporate world but certainly worth a shot.


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