5 min read

Reflecting on project planning problems

Part two of a three-part series of articles on learning hard lessons from a personal installation

We learned some key lessons and so did our suppliers: Make sure the supplier and customer discuss, document, discuss and accept what the project is all about.

Lesson One – Don’t take shortcuts

Have a dedicated project manager that makes sure both the technicians and the customer understand the full scope of the project and associated tasks.

Thinking back on our telecommunications troubles, we recognize that we should have done some of the steps differently. For instance, the first of the numerous technicians sent to us happened to be the same technician who installed the equipment originally at our Markham, Ont. office. We assumed he would have remembered or had some of the details about that earlier installation, or had supporting documentation so that he would have correctly re-programmed our environment in Mount Albert . It was also perhaps asking too much to assume that the original system would have been ‘imaged’ as part of the move and upgrade by the supplier.

Granted, this is an unusual installation as the system, applications and services were initially loaned to us as part of our ‘living lab’ to be able to test next generation solutions that could potentially add value to our SMBs or enterprise customers. We also recognize that this installation was outside of the normal professional processes and procedures that both we and the supplier do business with clients due to being a loan for our ‘living test lab’.

We defeated the purpose of having the move done for us by not insisting that the vendor provide a detailed plan with defined scope of work, configuration details and deliverables with expectations of both parties, as well as us supplying a dedicated FOX Group project manager. We had assigned one of our consultants to work on the move part-time in between multiple client engagements. Looking back, it would have involved less time and effort by both parties to ‘do it properly’.

Lesson Two – Do not do any move without complete and up-to-date documentation nearby

Speaking of documentation, we learned just how important it is, not only from the supplier’s point of view, but also from that of the customer. With having access to the documentation about the earlier set-up, things would have gone more smoothly with less time and effort from everyone.

We believe that it is critical for all customers to maintain up-to-date, accurate documentation of all of the equipment, configuration, and services including all supplier contact information for your voice, data and IT applications so that it is available if and when needed by both staff and vendors.

Our case was somewhat odd, in that our existing situation was temporary for a few months. We’re designing a new office building on our property, and we plan to move our consultants and technology from our current temporary location just as soon as the new space is complete and have the residence telecom services and capabilities separate from the business.

Knowing full well that we would be moving soon into the new office space, we didn’t bother to unpack or locate from temporary storage the numerous binders of documentation we had about our network and the former IP communications environment — don’t leave the documentation in storage, you will need it! That decision left us scrambling when the problems cropped up in that the supplier and we didn’t have documentation for our environment.

As the customer, we should have verified and checked the major areas of the work while being performed throughout the move from a quality/review perspective, including ensuring all equipment was connected to the on-site Fox Group supplied UPS, that the vendor completed proper cable management, documentation and labeling of all components as part of the overall move.

Third Lesson – Customers need to know and understand their environment

That’s another lesson, or perhaps an affirmation of something we have always believed: you need to know your network (both voice and data). It is still the customer’s job to understand their environment and be able to keep track of the details. We know this, but abdicated too much responsibility to the supplier of knowing our network.

We should have taken our own advice and made sure we were very aware of our new network architecture, design and detailed configuration requirements and be able to have the supporting details required to minimize the overall business impact even though we had the vendor engaged to do this for us.

The Impact

Troubleshooting takes its toll on the staff and most importantly on our customers. We thank them for their patience and tolerance during this difficult time. We particularly thank them for their feedback, which can be summarized as “get things fixed”!

Our interim system has been installed to support both our near term business and residential voice and data communications requirements.

After having arranged for an interim solution during our post-switchover discussions, and given the two and one half months of back and forth trying to get to a stable environment, we then asked ourselves, ‘Would our enterprise or technology dependent customers be expected to put up with the problems that we had faced such as the lost time from valuable IT and telecom resources, let alone loss of service and severe negative impact on our ability to service our customers?’ The resounding answer was, surely not!

Such disruption would seem to breach typical reasonable expectations and tolerances disregarding the size of the organization. But this is not a normal installation and we recognize that without the involvement of a trusted supplier, reseller or partner, we believe that some companies would have in fact had catastrophic business impacts if they had gone through similar situations as ours. At this stage, we are still analyzing our overall impact from an external perspective related to customer service, reputation and overall financial impact.

Where are we now?

We can now turn our full attention to helping our own enterprise clients with their technology strategies and migration plans, and more importantly, avoid the pitfalls we encountered as they move to their own converged VoIP environments.

For our telecom industry clients, we help them design and plan programs to ensure smooth non-disruptive moves, adds, changes and migrations to the next generation voice and data technologies that many organizations are migrating to. Perhaps this experience will help us all be better customers as well!

Is there blame to be attached? Maybe, but jointly associated with our supplier and ourselves. We not have done the move without a well-defined, documented formal agreement in place prior to the move.

Without this document, it is easy for the customer and supplier to lay blame on each other. No one wants to take the other party for granted and it shows that, whatever the size of a business, the convergence of technologies takes co-operation, joint thinking, agreement, time and effort, particularly for timely problem resolution.

Our Thoughts to IT, Voice & Data Vendors

Don’t shoot blame at the customer: Tell them the errors of their ways if you think they are wrong. If they don’t listen, then tell them honestly, supported with facts and details that you cannot support them in their requirements. This seems like a simple process – but if you don’t do this, then it leaves a bad taste in the customer’s mouth.

If you have an agreed scope of work, and the equipment exhibits cascading service problems or repeating failures; it is better to replace the equipment sooner rather than linger over the problems as they continue to disrupt a customer’s business and their customers for weeks or in our case, months on end. Replacing faulty or intermittent equipment informs customer that you care and are committed to them.