I have spent so much time recently with the BritBreak IT management team that it was pleasant to be involved in a real project. The IT director asked me to join a crisis meeting on SLASH. Before the meeting I was briefed by the IT project manager, a rising star called Ian Stook. SLASH (Short Lease Apartment Sunshine Holidays) is a system to handle an exciting market opportunity. Once an apartment block has been condemned, but before it has actually been pulled down, it's possible to get a short lease on it for peanuts. BritBreak leases the block, crams as many people as it can in before D (for demolition) Day and makes a packet. The IT department was quietly confident of going live in a week's time, when all hell broke loose. None of the specification documents mentioned a link to the TV companies, yet the users are insisting that the project is worthless without it. While it's possible in the timescale, Stook is adamant that he shouldn't deliver. "We can't have users changing their minds," he said. "They'll think they're in charge next." In the lift I caught up with Roz Arnold, the sales manager heading up the SLASH user team. Her version of events was subtly different. "Of course we specified the link. It's imperative. It's a link to the various holiday programme schedules. We have to know when they're going to visit our resorts, so we can shunt the punters across to the nearest luxury block. But we couldn't put the requirement in writing; think what would happen if it was leaked." The first half hour of the meeting was like a pantomime. "You didn't specify it." "Oh, yes, we did." "Oh, no, you didn't." I decided to give the meeting some direction. "How long would it take to put the change in?" I asked Stook. "Four weeks." You had to admire his professionalism. There was nothing to indicate he was lying through his teeth. Arnold shook her head. "We could be in the brown and sticky by then. It has to be seven days." Impasse. Luckily my training came to the fore. "How many extra staff would it take to complete on time?" I asked Stook. "I'm sorry?" It looked like he wasn't such a high flyer after all. I waggled my eyebrows. "How many extra staff? Could you do it with twice as many?" At last he cottoned on. "It's not that easy. We'd have to more than quadruple the team to finish in a week. Perhaps six times. There are diseconomies of scale. Mythical man month and all that." For a moment I thought Roz Arnold would query this, but the usual glazed look of a user discussing IT came over her and I knew we'd won the day. She got her system on time, Stook got a 500% hike in budget and everyone was happy. That's diplomacy.
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