Succeeding at Unreasonable Speed

Steven Troccoli signed on as director of IT at Precious Moments Inc. just as the company was starting to plan its rapid transition into an operating concern. That made him its second operating employee, only two months before its licensing agreement with Enesco ended. Troccoli originally scoped the transition from licensor to distribution and fulfillment company as a six-month job. After being forced to blow through it in half that time, he has some thoughts on running projects at top speed.

CIO INSIGHT: You’ve shown that this supposed six-month job can be done successfully in much less time. How long would you recommend to a friend that she take on a similar project?

TROCCOLI: Six months, maybe five. With the right people in place, it was doable faster than that, but you have to look at the risk management perspective. The risk is losing control of a project that runs tens of millions of dollars worth of business.

You realize you are missing your chance to claim some new standard for project management?

The risk factors in doing it so fast are too high to make what we did the standard. We launched with feature holes big enough to drive a truck through, like a third-party shipping function that did not go live until August. We had to do things like that under duress, but I wouldn’t accept them if I was wearing my responsible business hat. There are lots of lessons to learn about working as a team under time pressure, but the optimal project life-cycle probably isn’t one of them.

What was the most valuable lesson you took from the experience?

Stay tight with your key people—stay very close to your other senior managers. No matter how busy you think you are, or they are, keep communicating. Not communicating capabilities or expectations effectively is a big problem and creates the greatest pressure. And no matter how much you communicate, physical distance between key people can still be a barrier to getting things done.

All things considered, it sounds like a fairly stressful few months.

One of the hardest parts is that it makes everybody uncomfortable when you have people who want to do a good job for the customer, and you can’t support them. But when you get over that, and you brutally prioritize the features, the complexities go away, which is good in its own way. You do what you can. Still, the emotional strain is not to be underestimated. —E.C

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