It’s a great project that will really make a difference but it’s not going well

On New-Years Eve I went for a walk and I met my dentist. He looked most undentist like, wearing a couple of day’s growth of beard and carrying a lot of bags. He explained that he was putting in a new PC system and new telephone system. He was closed for dental work. He looked worried and he explained that he was ‘in trouble.’

I suggested we grab a coffee and he could explain what made him say this.

He told me that the new computer system was ‘state of the art’ and combined with the new telephone system the service levels would increase dramatically for customers. He was very excited while at the same time feeling let down by the contractor. Apparently the contractor arrived with some of the essential kit still in their office which was a round trip of at least 4 hours. The kit when installed was not working and would definitely require work on New Years Day. The ‘phone system was yet to go in and he did not feel very confident about its installation. He was concerned that the surgery was fully functional for 2 January 2009.

We chatted for a few minutes and I made a few suggestions which included a number of options. Many of these based on communications and working with the contractor:

• manage the contractors – it appeared as though the contractors were managing the dentist. The customer contractor relationship was somewhat blurred with the dentist doing some of the contractors work. The proper relationship needed to be established very quickly

• sit down with the contractors and go through the original objectives of the project. Review what was needed and when it would be done, how it would be done and how it would be monitored

• think about postponing installation of the telephone system. He was visibly relieved with this suggestion…the current telephone system worked and the contractors have hardly covered themselves in glory

• identify extra costs now. He was concerned for the extra costs to the practice. This included overtime payments to staff for coming in on New Years Day.

• agree a date with the contractor to sit down once the project is working to review what worked, what did not, extra costs and who is to pay for them

He had already thought through some of the above points. My comments simply added to his that this project had to be delivered and on time.

I was left with the impressions that this was a project out of control. The contractor who was putting in the system appeared to be running it very badly with little management by the owner.

Before we parted I asked the dentist to identify the key things he had learned from this project. He was very quiet for a moment and then said: “Manage the contractor more effectively however to do this I recognise the original project objectives should have been written down.”

He left a more enlightened man knowing that the next time he tackled something like this he would get it right and not feel so stressed.

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