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News from Customs. I used to work there before someone decided to destroy the IT area and outsource everyone from his own aggrandisement. We'll call him "Cockroach", based on the theory that only cockroaches will survive a nuclear war. He went on to another slash-and-burn rampage over at Defence, from which he was ultimately sacked for grossly mishandling a centi-million dollar purchase of helicopters. But not before reducing morale over there to zero. This was his standard technique - management by misery.

The textbooks say that if the extent of outsourcing is high and the strategic value of the portfolio is also high, then a strategic partnership is required, in which "trust rather than incentives and penalties becomes an important mechanism to ensure that the service provider's interests coincide with client's interests". [Kishore et al, CACM vol. 46 No. 12 2003]

So Cockroach decided to treat the relationship instead as a war, bringing in a couple of his lackeys to wage it. I can't describe all the myriad acts of bastardry here but they prompted three site managers to resign in disgust and the result is that now over half the contract team are engaged in nothing more productive than contract management.

Part of the contract was a major item for the redevelopment of the legacy systems. This was tendered as a Unix solution. Cockroach insisted that an IBM mainframe solution be substituted. For the same price. The figures were gone over again and again and this was proved to be unfeasible. After a lot of name-calling, the contract was let to another firm, who had the advantage of not being in an existing relationship.

I knew that something was going on when I glimpsed the project plan. All the "milestones" were "start this". I kept looking through the MS Project output for actual deliverables. The first one was a week before the final deadline. I can start 20 dfferent projects by myself in an afternoon; it's getting them finished that takes all the time. Sure enough, nothing was delivered on time.

According to information obtained by the Senate Committee, the project, initially estimated to cost $40M (snort) has now spent twice that and allegedly needs another $60M to get finished. That's $140M. And it's already a year overdue.

The original contract was for three years with two options to renew for two more. That was six years ago; the contract has since been renewed twice. Now Customs started mumbling about awarding the contract to someone else. A quick count on my fingers showed that there wasn't enough time for that. Sure enough, Customs wants to renew for another to years. Since there is a number of people who think that the best outcome would be to walk away from Customs and leave them to wallow in their own excrement, contract negotiations should be interesting...

Oh, and they have hired Cockroach back as a highly paid "consultant". Jobs for the boys, you know.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
11th Apr, 2004 07:15 (UTC)
Oh boy. This sounds horribly familiar. One of the worst two months of my life was working on-site at a client where (a) the higher one's status, the more one behaved like a two-year-old with a temper tantrum, and (b) the manager we had to deal with wanted us out for purely political reasons (because said person had come in as part of a re-organisation, and we were considered to be in the "enemy" camp) which was rather difficult because we already had a working product in place. Political sabotage, with lies and memos flying around, to the degree where my boss had to resort to bringing a tape recorder to meetings in order to keep them honest...

So I can totally believe you when you say that over half the contract team are engaged in nothing more productive than contract management. The amount of wasted effort when the other party can't be trusted, is just ... well, it's infinitely more than when everyone gets along. Because in a non-trust situation one has to work-to-rule simply in order to cover your ass.
While as a contrast I can remember how smoothly things went at another place where it was simply a matter of picking up the phone and saying "can we do this?", or they would be able to pick up the phone and say "Hey, wouldn't it be good if we could do such and such?" and if it was a trivial change we'd just go ahead and do it. Because what both parties were interested in was getting the job done, full stop.

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )