Caught in a political drama

Caught in a political drama, Helen Holdt, Project Manager.

Article with Helen Holdt, Project Manager

I was the Delivery Manager on a project to supply a finance system to a bank located abroad. As Delivery 

Manager I acted as a link between the client and the supplier's team, where there were eight of us onsite.

The project delivery went according to plan, but when we made it to the test run six weeks prior to going live, the client informed us that unless all the criteria were accepted as green or yellow within four weeks by their key stakeholders, they would stop the project completely and terminate the contract with the supplier.
This placed a huge strain on my team – the client was not solution-oriented and felt that it was the team's fault, while our management stood off to one side and figured that we were just idiots who couldn't do the job.

I was in charge of making sure that everything worked and ensuring that the client's project managers delivered their part of the project, such as the test and go-live. But the client's project team, which consisted of about 45 people, wasn't particularly hard-working or interested in completing the project – it could take a long time to get specific testing of something we had adjusted, and the program manager and project manager did not seem to be in any particular hurry to make the deadline.
Within our team we were all aware that we were in a 'battlefield' and had to stand together as brothers-in-arms, and my first task was to ensure that everyone on the team would make it through the next six weeks as whole individuals, while also succeeding as a group.

The first thing we did was to define how we would navigate through the next six weeks in order to reach our goal. We identified the work areas at the client where we would have to go in and take control. We held brief team meetings several times over the course of the day. We ensured that we had our own prioritisation of the tasks (which was different to that of the client). We coordinated who said what to the client, so that the dialogue would be as constructive as possible.

The next six weeks were intensive and everyone did their best. We were buddies 24-7, and we were very good at helping each other to get through the work unscathed, without succumbing to stress. Through communication, dialogue and strict coordination, we managed to complete the project.
15 minutes before the deadline, the last of the client's key stakeholders informed us that we had met all of the criteria.

The mood in the project changed completely, and in the final phase of go-live the client participated in a structured and proactive way in which everyone cooperated.
On a personal level, I learned that it's just amazing what you can achieve if you stick together as a group with the same drive and purpose. Today, all I have to do is think about those people and our meeting room to to get that team feeling.

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