Employers must be careful how they treat their IT staff working under pressure on Year 2000 projects because the ?death march? towards the millennium strengthens their bargaining power immensely.
That was the message from respected industry guru Ed Yourdon at the Software Productivity Group?s Year 2000 Conference and Exposition in New York last week, who warned that the traditional employer-employee balance was shifting as the deadline for achieving systems compliance draws nearer.
The crucial nature of Year 2000 systems conversion and its potential impact on the core business means IT staff need to assert themselves. ?Traditional corporate culture used to be bsad on a job for life,which meant that [IT staff] were expected to put up with a lot of grief in death march rojects,? he explained. ?But many employers have already indicated that the social contract is no longer valid.?
This has ramifications for the IT professional who finds him or herself under increased pressure from businsess management to complete systems conversion projects that in many cases began too late. ?If the employer threatens to fire you if the death march project fails, then you should be equally cold blooded if you?re given impossible constraints for the project,? he advised IT staff.
IT project leaders must make every effort to choose their own teams to work on conversion projects. ?Risk [of failure] increases substantially if the project manager can?t choose his or her own team members,?explained Yourdon. If project leaders are denied the chance to pick their own people,they have a variety of options, ranging from quitting to appealing to the board for support.
Yourdon offered further advice to improve the project?s prospects, beginning with honesty and good communication. At all times in the lifetime of the project, team members must be given an honest assessment of the status of the work to date and the likelihood of success or failure. ?Don?t lie to your project team,? urged Yourdon. ?They?re not idiots - they read ?Dilbert?.?
It is also important not to become hide bound by established procedures and methodologies, he went on. ?In a death march project, it?s pointless for the methodology police to mandate a formal software process if it?s not going to be followed.? Similarly, death march project workers must be allowed to choose their own tools whether or not they conform to established organisational standards.
But there is a genuine danger in introducing new tools into projects with such a rigid deadline. ?Some death march projects grab new tools as a ?silver bullet? to accomplish much higher levels of productivity than would otherwise be possible,? Yourdon noted. ?But they ignore the learning curve, confusion and policial debates associated with the introduction of a new tool.?
Yourdon concluded with a final piece of advice to IT staff - don?t cave in under the inevitable pressure of Year 2000 conversion projects. ?Succeeding with death march projects is obviously desirable,? he said., ?but surviving them is also important.?
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