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The seven words to rule them all

Geoff Lazberger | Nov. 29, 2013
When I assumed the position of CIO for the first time a number of years ago, I found the role alluring, intellectually seductive, completely compelling and engaging, and my absolute passion.

I was presented with a dictum from the CEO and responsible for enabling the brand new office within a fortnight.

But I was now stuck between two immovable objects -- an unachievable goal (who could fit out a completely empty and unconnected office from scratch in just two weeks?) and a CEO whose bedside manner would make Kerry Packer on a bad day seem like a pussy cat on Mogadon (those who remember the 1991 House of Representatives Select Committee enquiry on the print media will appreciate this analogy).

So, I sat down and calmly built out a simple yet telling Gantt chart which contained the key tasks needing completion to ensure the new office could function (ISP connectivity to the office, printer configuration, Citrix connectivity, procurement and transportation of computers, phones, PABX and onramp establishment, and extension of the WAN).

The ISP connectivity alone at that time was six weeks minimum with other tasks dependent upon that being completed first. At a push, we could complete everything within eight weeks, certainly not two.

Armed with this picture, I went upstairs, sat down and explained to the CEO it would be approximately eight weeks before a new office could be readied. As expected, this information was not greeted with enthusiasm (I'm being courteous). With a few choice expletives thrown around the discussion began to veer into the well-worn path of a not-so-polite and denigrating appraisal of IT delivery in general and how it seems our only goal was to impede the business.

I sat calmly and listened, saying nothing (recalling the Chinese proverb "in a contest between the river and a rock, the river will always win). Then when everything went quiet, to focus the conversation back to the point at hand I asked, "What problem are you trying to solve?" The emphatic answer was to open a new office interstate within two weeks -- "which part of that didn't I understand?"

I then placed the Gantt chart assuredly on the desk in front of the CEO and said I was extremely happy to comply with that directive, I just needed to know which tasks I could remove from the plan in order to reduce the eight week critical path timeline back to two weeks.

The CEO looked at the plan, looked at me, back at the plan then, after a pause of some 15 seconds, concurred nothing could be removed from the plan and grudgingly agreed it would take eight weeks to do it properly and they would plan around this accordingly.

With revised instructions to "let's do it properly" I left the room feeling quite pleased to have resolved such a contentious issue quickly and without any blood spilt on the floor.


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