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Boss put project on progress bar timeline: three months … four … actually NOW!

Change approval board signed off as soon as it heard it was BT's fault

On Call With the weekend on the way, and your countdown to the respite it brings hopefully free of interruptions, The Register presents another edition of On-Call, our weekly reader-contributed tale of techies being asked to deliver against dud deadlines.

This week, meet a reader we'll Regomize as "Mark" who once worked as IT project manager at a very large three-letter European logistics provider (which he says you'll be able to identify if you watch Mission Impossible movies).

Mark had recently moved into project management after time as an IT manager and hands-on techie. So one of the projects on his plate didn't seem that scary: he had three months to migrate a smallish warehouse in the Netherlands from one centrally managed warehouse system to another.

The job meant moving five PCs, the same number of label printers, and a single network box that handled routing, firewalling, and VPNs. A leased line was required, too, plus some backup comms.

Three months looked like a comfortable amount of time in which to do the job.

Four months was even more comfortable, and that's the timeline Mark was given after the project's business program manager informed him of a delay.

But Mark wasn't comfortable. He had other projects to manage, so asked if he could keep aiming for the three-month deadline.

"I knew you IT project managers were crazy, but you're particularly crazy! Suit yourself! I don't care!" was the response.

So it was agreed Mark would work towards the original deadline, even though cutover would happen a month later. And as the original deadline approached, he was on track to deliver – but had deferred the work required to make the final cutover, and assigned the people who would do that job to other tasks.

Other than that, he was on top of his project portfolio.

Until the program manager re-appeared, and asked if the project could go live on the date of the original deadline – five days from the time of the conversation.

Mark asked why the schedule had changed, again.

The project manager explained that the logistics company's leased line was provided by BT, and the carrier would not extend it for a month to the new deadline. It would only offer one- or three-year extensions, and the cost – even of the shorter contract – would blow the project budget out of the water.

Mark thought it through and, sure, he could hit the new/old deadline. The hardware was already on site, the backup comms in place. All that remained was to have the relevant network engineer and firewall admin play their parts, tweak the new hardware, activate their routers and firewall rules that had been setup already. Cutting over to the new hardware would be tricky, but Mark thought it could be done.

Except for one critical factor: nobody was around to help. Changed deadlines meant Mark had allocated people to other projects.

The program manager beseeched Mark to do anything he could to get the job done.

"You and I could block all time in between our scheduled meetings, drive over there tomorrow, and do all of the work ourselves Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and go live on Sunday."

The program manager protested he wasn't qualified. Mark assured him they could make beautiful music together – and needed help otherwise he'd be behind on another job.

"I'm going to book us a hotel right away" was the program manager's response.

"The end result was that the program manager learned a lot about IT during those days. And everything ended well, because when the official network and firewall changes had to be approved by the change approval board, the answer to their query about why this was an emergency was 'Because British Telecom are a bunch of arseholes.'

"Those magic words and the explanation of the contract renewal issue made the entire CAB go from hostile to 'We agree with your description of BT's anatomy: changes approved!'"

How have you coped with changes to project schedules? Let us know by clicking here to send an email to On Call and we may feature your story here on a future Friday. ®

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