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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 17-Jun-11


Friday 17-June-11

In the press

I once worked for a government agency that was in the news for having failed to deliver a very visible contract to schedule -- or at least having a supplier that failed. It's a tricky situation and fingers were pointed in many directions, and not always fairly.

Press and politicians, however, love a scapegoat, and heads rolled. At times, it seemed like a public execution with the crowd baying for more blood. Being an insider at such an event was very interesting. Whilst it was a depressing time, most people just got on with their jobs.

A public enquiry blamed mostly the supplier but also us for not managing the situation better. Personally, I think that once the ink was dry on the contract the die was cast. When a key supplier hasn't grasped the nettle and just hasn't got the needed systems and people in place, and especially when they dismiss your concerns, then there is little you can do.

So what are the 20-20 lessons? Well, I guess we could have checked out references even more thoroughly. We were worried early and should have raised the flag then, though the likelihood is we would just have been told to sort it out -- after all, we were supposed to be managing the contract.

There are many situations like this in life, where once you're in the rabbit-hole the only way seems forward to a certain doom. When there seems so easy way out, sometimes the answer is creativity and courage. Sometimes the best answer is to give in gracefully.

Your comments

Probably the key word in your observation is "visible".

It seems that the small tedious contracts are ignored by the public, but everybody appears to be an expert on the intrinsically public mega-projects. Whether it is the visibility or magnitude of the endeavour the process has significant momentum, thus moving forward is often the wisest or only option. Braking a train, and risk derailing it, just because it missed a station - however critical - might be an approximate metaphor??

However, assuming the "20-20 lesson" refers to the common perception that hindsight is always accurate might not always apply. There is a phrase that has become more common and more annoying (IMO) in private and public bureaucracies to refer to such decisions - "...proceeding on a go-forward basis....." .

The reality is that there is always something to learn from history, every time one reviews it. Time gives focus, not just retrospection (?). Thus all such files should always be left open and reviewed, I think, not only by new students of the process but veterans as well. The proverb "....once bitten, twice shy...." often makes more sense.

-- Peter S.

I worked in IT for 30 years during which I had a lot to do with outsourcing of projects and operational services. There are various management models that can be applied and choosing the right one is important but no guarantee of success.

In my experience, underneath the structural and procedural aspects of outsourcing (and pertinent to 'Changing Minds'), a recurring factor in failure to deliver is the customer's fear of confrontation with the supplier. Suppliers understand this very well and seek to create friendly and supportive relationships with customer decision makers, who are often technically out of their depth, so that confrontation would be a betrayal of the 'friendship'. Of course, things eventually have to come to a head but by then it is usually too late. (Does this have some parallels in the current media/police/politics upheaval?)

As a footnote, the best manager of outsourced work that I ever encountered was an Egyptian and I can't help but speculate that his cultural background was an important factor.

To Peter S, when you hear words like ' ... proceeding on a go-forward basis ...', you just know that you are in deep s**t.

- Graham.

Dave replies:
Interesting, that. I've seen the same. And as a consultant I've worked on customer relationships, knowing that there's a financial return in there somewhere. Underneath it all is a social rule that you mustn't harm your friends. It bites me too, as I go above and beyond to help them and sometimes charge less than I should...

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