Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




An article some might find interesting

Integration Management - Cigna's Self-Inflicted Wounds
http://www.cio.com/archive/031503/cigna.html

This is just another article that describes a large integration project that cost more than expected to implement. As usual, there is a large consulting firm that plays a significant role in this story.

I worked on a large integration project back in the early 90s and the thing that sticks in my mind to this day was the indifference upper management had towards its loyal employees who became obsolete once that software system was up and running. I bet that most of the money that this company eventually claimed it saved through job elimination went right into the pockets of the executive managers.  :-(

FYI: Similar to baseline.com and informationweek.com --- cio.com is a IT executive management magazine that occasionally posts stories about large software development efforts that failed or ran into trouble.

One Programmer's Opinion
Thursday, May 01, 2003


Thank you, it was interesting. 

Having been in several of these type project failures, the technical staff is always of the problems that are coming up with implementation.  I wish they would have mentioned something in that area... and possibly the hush-hush requirement that those techies had to adhere to...

Joe AA
Thursday, May 01, 2003

Never hire a CIO who says this "The
back-end data didn't work at the front end."

fell out of my chair after reading that....,

I think Philo's project (ex-project) has drawn its inspiration from this.

Prakash S
Thursday, May 01, 2003

If a CIO fails to take personal responsability for a project that is a failure of the CEO in hiring and conveying proper management procedure.  If the team fails to alert anyone of errors, that's a failure of ownership, testing methods, and reporting. 

Overall, that's just sad - and shoving it back on the consultants and her own IT staff is simply unforgivable.

Lou
Thursday, May 01, 2003

I tend to agree with Lou -- as CIO, she bears the ultimate responsibility.  However, she probably also got pushed into promising to meet unrealistic deadlines (sound familiar?), in which case she could rightfully put some of the blame on others at the executive level.

GML
Thursday, May 01, 2003

Cigna CIO Andrea Anania: "What could one individual do? There's only so much one person can do."

What could one individual do? Well, I can think of one particular individual who built the entire IT infrastructure for the world. When people yell at Windows, they inevitably drag out the name of Bill Gates, who has never EVER said anything at Microsoft was "not his fault"

Joel has commented on this to some degree - ownership, responsibility, and authority. They are vital aspects of a successful software project, and when the CIO says "hey, how much can one person do" then you have the wrong CIO.

Philo

Philo
Thursday, May 01, 2003

I don't see why everyone is blaming the CIO.  She did the smart thing.  She hired out a consulting firm and gave them an impossible, crappy task.  When they predictably failed, she blamed them.  That's what they get (over)paid for.  Makes sense to me. :)

Crimson
Thursday, May 01, 2003

Blaming the contractor was cover for what she really did:

Oked the switch over to a new system that didn't work, destroyed the company's customer service reputation, cost the company a bunch of clients, and lost them a whole lot of money above and beyond the wasted money on development.

Chris Tavares
Thursday, May 01, 2003

There were three women CIO's at that company, which is relatively unusual and suggests gender-based hiring, probably of bright, "can-do" attitudes that aren't based on real expertise.

And, note, as soon as it fails, the CIO blames someone else.

I would say that company would have been full of awful trendy things that never worked, all the time with the external consultants playing them like a violin. I bet it was a horrible environment for software developers.


Thursday, May 01, 2003

To a large extent, much blame does go on the consulting firm.

I mean, if things are not going well, then the boss needs to be told. If the consulting firm feeds them rosy pictures, what else can one do?

It sounds a bit like this software project did NOT have a head on its shoulders. The lack of strong project leader is usually one of the worst problems here. Often, it is the controller, or some head accounting manager put in charge of the project. He can be in charge, but what he needs to do is put a top flight consultant in charge to over see the project. Joe controller down the hall is NOT capable of managing this kind of IT project. No more so then managing a crew to build a new wing on the building. So, that long time company controller can be charge of building a new wing, but he can’t be in charge of the actual construction crew because he has not a clue on how to do this construction stuff.

Of course, a good consulting firm will also point this out!

Further, it sounds like the specs were built before the consulting firm was brought in, but we really don’t know. If you bring me in, I will re-write your specifications documents into something that is workable.

Of course, the consulting firm also has to put its foot down, and state how things must be done. I don’t know if this was done, but now you have a CEO saying that how can it be my fault?

I have to agree to a point here what that CEO. When the system started going live, that consulting firm had a duty to state that problems existed, and it was not ready for prime time. Of course, what consulting firm wants to say that the system is not ready? This is a very shrewd comment by the CEO, but, it is true. However, how do we know that the system did not go forward despite objections of the consulting firm? We don’t know how much the consulting firms hands were tied here. Again, it sounds like things were being painted into a good light. Next time, run the interview with both parties in the same room, and then we will see what the CEO says. She can say anything now. I do suspect that the consulting firm said things were ok, but we just don't know.

It is a good story, and no doubt the company does need more control over its IT department. In fact, you can see exactly that the company is now taking more charge and control of this IT project. (typical, now that they got it running, no doubt they want control of the system!

Fact is, I do put a ton of blame on the consulting firm. However, it is not clear under what authority, or how they were brought in. In other words, there is not a lot clarity in the article as to what the responsibly of the consulting firm was. Were they just brought in to help convert some systems, or were they in charge of the whole project?

Once again, the reason why companies hire IT firms is because they don’t have the manpower or expertise in some area.  It is very hard blame the CEO when the consulting firm says everything is ok.

My spider sense tells me that the consulting firm did not have complete control here, and thus there is much blame to go around.

Fact is, I vote for first rate 100% competency in consulting firms. That is my standard when I tell a business what to do, or I walk in and tell their programmers what they need to do. That is my job. If those in house developers don’t listen to me, or agree, then the boss gets a letter explaining that things are not going to work according to plan. In others words, accept my competency and expertise, or suffer the consequences.

If a consulting firm can’t stand the heat in the kitchen, then get out of the IT business. If that company can’t take my recommendations, then I just tell them right off big time.  There is two sides here.

When things go bad, they realize that these things don't always go well, and then they really do call me back to mop up the mess! I love doing that!

I am tired of slackers, and consulting companies that can’t pull their weight. Fortunately, the economy right now is getting rid of those companies that can’t cook food at a very good rate right now. 

If you had me running that project, it would have been world war 5, and I would have got it done.

We really can’t figure out how much control the CEO had in this project.

I guess if you hire someone to build you a garage, and the whole thing results in half unfinished piece of junk garage, then who is to blame? Ultimately, it is the house owners fault, but the crappy, or dishonest garage building company has to take some blame here also.

The really sad part here is likely both parties did a honest job, but lacked skill, or experience to realize what they were getting into. So, this failure may have nothing to do with honesty (or lack of), and all parities perhaps were generally under the impressing that this was going to work out ok. They did at the end get this thing working.

Fact is, many think that they can cook well, but that is not the case!

This stuff is not easy, and is perhaps why I like it!

Albert D. Kallal  (Microsoft MVP)
Edmonton, Alberta Canada
Kallal@msn.com

Albert D. Kallal
Thursday, May 01, 2003

As far as the article goes it appears that the main problem was not the implementation, but the fact that they never expected it to foul up when they make the big switch.

Two things ALWAYS happen with a big software program.

Firstly it goes OK until it really goes live.

Secondly nobody EVER expects it to foul up so there are no safeguards.

They shouldn't have sacked customer service reps, they should have hired more to deal with the inevitable snafus. And budgeted for the snafu.

Now reading closely you'll see there was a load of pressure to increase short term profitablity. and this is a direct result of pressures being put on CEO's by the fund managers who make up the majority of the shareholders, who are pressured all the time by their customers.

It happens in all walks of life. The inabiltiy to stand up to the person above you and tell him he can't have what he wants.

Stephen Jones
Friday, May 02, 2003

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home