Silicon Valley State of Mind, a blog by John Weathington, "The Science of Success"
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Silicon Valley State of Mind

Tips, thoughts, and advice based on the consulting work of John Weathington, "The Science of Success."

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Posted by on in Program Management

The Unites States Federal Bureau of Information (FBI) announced today that it spent $600 million to share files electronically. That seems silly doesn’t it?

To add insult to injury, this was the initiative that was spurred by the September 11th attacks back in 2001. That’s right, it took $600 million and 12 years to build a system that shares files electronically.

I know you may not be as experienced as I am in these matters, but in case there’s any doubt, no it does not take $600 million and 12 years to build a system to share files. At Sun Microsystems, it took me only $2 million and 1 year to build an entire compliance data system from scratch, that hooked into four disparate transactional systems including a massively customized Oracle ERP installation. This is at Sun Microsystems, the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a government operation in the private sector.

The obvious problems are bureaucracy and politics, but it’s worth mentioning to highlight just how insane costs can get when you don’t get this straight. Bureaucracy and politics go hand in hand to destroy a program. Bureaucracy happens when objectives don’t matter anymore and everyone’s just worried about following steps. This is what I call the project management trap. Politics happen when leaders protect their fiefdoms by any means possible, sustaining their position and the status-quo. In both cases, objectives are demoted in favor of artificial gods.

To prevent this in your organization, do three simple things:

  • Establish an Executive Sponsor who is clearly accountable for objectives. Give him/her the chair on a steering committee if you must, but there should be one, very high-level person accountable for nothing but results.
  • Establish a program/project charter, and assign full authority and responsibility to a competent program manager. Hire a good consultant of you don’t have the competence or availability in house, but avoid huge management agencies; it’s like hiring another bureaucracy. The FBI fired Lockheed Martin midstream on this project due to delays. I wonder why. The same thing will happen with any of the big consulting firms.
  • Setup tight-cycle (i.e. weeks, not months), functional deployments (i.e. something that can actually be used by the business), and reward everyone based on accomplishing small objectives to attain larger objectives.

Just like bureaucracy and politics work together to bloat program costs and timelines; these three practices work together as the Pepto-Bismol. By keeping the focus on objectives and actively fighting politics and bureaucracy, you can bring your project in far under $600 million and 12 years.

I mean, really? Give me a break!

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