Anna arranges and attends a meeting with her new sponsor Mike Rovone.
Mike’s office contains a busy desk; a little-used computer; assorted samples of packaging, tins of beans, marketing books and a view of a light well through the window. He is a very long-standing manager in the Retail part of the company and has agreed to sponsor the project. He is effectively the client for this project and Anna knows enough to regard him in that light.
So, the ETP project team has been expanded by one person: Mike has two roles – one as the in-house technical expert on weighing, which he is entirely happy with. Mike is obsessed by weighing devices and very often highjacks a meeting to discuss the technical issues. His other role is as sponsor – is a role he feels was dumped on him by ‘Chairman Bob’ and he is not clear what this involves.
Anna is as neat and tidy as always. Today she is wearing a white blouse and a dark trouser suit where a trace of pinstripe hints at authority. Mike‘s white hair is all over the place, he wears a knitted waistcoat with a small stain that hopefully is no older than lunch and small spectacles. He seems to be like Albert Einstein but without the intelligence.
His origins lay somewhere in Central or Eastern Europe.
She takes a seat on the visitor’s side of the overflowing desk moving a copy of Weighing Monthly magazine off the chair.
Anna starts the meeting. ‘I’ve been appointed as project manager for the e-Trolley pilot project and I am delighted that you are to be the sponsor and a technical expert.’ She amazes herself with her fluent lie about being pleased.
Mike replies, ‘Yes, that’s right. I understand this is the CEO’s pet project and I must admit that this time he seems to have come up with a really good idea?’
The full role description can be viewed in Anna's files.
Anna has decided to get Mike on her side and pretends that she is not clear about the role of the sponsor. She doesn’t find this very hard to do as her knowledge of the topic is only half an hour more than his. They both visit the framework together and extract the formal description of the role.
SpendItNow – Draft Role Definitions
The sponsor is ultimately responsible for the project. He or she, has to ensure that the project is value for money, ensuring a cost-conscious approach to the project, balancing the demands of different parts of the organisation. Throughout the project, the sponsor ‘owns’ the business case.
They discuss for a little while. Mike likes the idea of being a client as it appears to give him a wide ranging power without the need for any demanding work. If he thinks something should or should not be done he only has to say so.
After all, he thinks, the client is always right.
Anna points out the sponsor’s responsibilities and as each one is revealed, even in outline, Mike feels less sure about the authority but surer there will be work to be done.
She brings the discussion back to the project itself, ‘As we discussed, even in the pilot, ideally the trolley will have a barcode reader, a weighing device and possibly connection with an RFID system. Shoppers can scan each item by themselves before dropping it into the trolley. The trolley ‘knows’ how much the selected items should both weigh and cost so the shopper can simply fill up with purchases, and leave through the fast e-Trolley checkout. OK so far?’
‘That’s it’, Mike replies, ‘Each shop will have a number of special e-Trolley check outs where the trolley connects to the shop’s systems and provides an instant check-out without all that offloading onto checkout belts and re-packing.
The research shows that people really do not like the current check-out process. If they try to check out but have an item with an RFID tag that hasn’t been scanned the trolley will signal politely and ask the checkout staff to confirm the e-Trolley contents. If they try to check out with an incompatible weight for the items scanned the same will happen.
‘Now the weighing systems will be really very interesting as they have to be light, reliable, work on non-horizontal surfaces – I was beginning to think of an electronic……’
Anna interrupts, ‘Have you by any chance seen the documents outlining all of this – perhaps the specification in the definition documentation?’
Mike, mutters vaguely, ‘Oh yes – I remember that you and Jason did one, I have a copy here somewhere.’
Anna (remembering that the only difference between a supermarket trolley and a man is that a trolley has a mind of its own) asks, ‘just how intelligent, in your view, is this new trolley going to be?’
Mike, back on safer ground, responds confidently ‘It’ll have a hand-held barcode reader attached to the trolley and an in-built weighing system. After that it needs a method of connecting to the shop’s main system where we will need some additional processing capacity to calculate total purchase price and weight at each moment. It is the weighing part that fascinates me. Perhaps we should use a system for weighing the whole trolley with its contents on some form of minute weighbridge…..’
Anna interrupts again, ‘And you have seen the budget and a timescale for this?’
Mike reluctantly drags his mind away from weighing scales to the project and, remembering that his role includes approving any budgetary changes, seizes on a moment of power. ‘Oh yes. The budget and timescale were set out in definition documentation? I can tell you that these costs are pretty well fixed. I understand that you added some money on as we know this is new technology so don’t some back to me for more cash’.
He thinks he is being a clever sponsor by setting himself up as a hard-nosed customer.
Anna recalls Jason telling her that it is quite common for the cost and timescale of the project to be defined long before the scope is clear. He said it is a simple fact that the project team will be asked for duration and a budget at the time when they know least about the project – the very beginning or even long before the beginning. It should be really easy to ascertain how long a project has taken and how much it cost when the project has ended but at the start it is hard. Jason had gone on to say that in many organisations actual costs and timescales are equally difficult to discover even long after the project has ended.
Anna makes a suggestion: ‘I plan to get the key members of the team together to try and build a list of all the items and work that need doing to deliver the project. I think this will give us a very useful view of the project and a much better idea of the way the budget and the time should be split amongst those jobs. I’d very much like you to sit in on that – is that OK with you?’
‘Fine. When shall we do it?’
‘I’ll sort something out’. Anna leaves this and her perfume hanging in the air as she departs to arrange the meeting.
Anna realises that Mike has displayed a very common characteristic within project teams. His main interest on the project is the weighing devices. To him this is the major challenge and he is happy dealing with it. For her, this is a technical issue that does of course need to be eventually resolved but is not yet worth thinking much about. Right now it is more important to set a timescale for the design of the weighing devices, make sure that suitable people are assigned to the activity and perhaps raise a risk that it might be the cause of technical problems but please, let’s not spend time on the technical detail just yet. Mike wants to spend all of his time in his comfort zone.
Mike Rovone’s type is a danger to any project – in his mind the whole project team should devote time to solving the weighing problems. He is not interested nor comfortable with all the other issues and challenges. If he were allowed his freedom he would arrive at the planned completion date with a perfect weighing system and absolutely nothing else to hang it on. No trolley, no communications, no project reports and absolutely no kudos for the project team.
Anna realises she must address this problem and get the point over to her sponsor gently but quickly.
Thanks to Geoff Reiss for contributing this book