Episode 6 Week 2 – Friday

Episode 6 Week 2 – Friday


Alice has committed to delivering the project in eleven months – on November 30.



The X Project was less than two weeks old when disaster struck. It happened like this:

Alice was having a meeting with Sammy, the software guy, to determine what progress had been made this week. It seemed like it had been a good week and everything they had said would complete had completed.

Sammy, however, made several references to ‘the filing system’ and after the third such reference, Alice asked innocently which of the thirty chunks contained ‘the filing system’.

‘None of them,’ came the reply.

‘What do you mean?’ asked Alice, a chill starting to creep up her spine.

‘The filing system is a separate thing,’ said Sammy.

‘Separate?’ she said in disbelief.


‘It’s a separate chunk?’


‘Like, a thirty first chunk.’


‘Is it big?’ asked Alice, with mounting dread.

‘Big enough,’ said Sammy.

‘Small, Medium, Large or Extra Large?’ asked Alice.

‘It’d be Medium.’

‘Not Large?’

‘Well OK, probably Large.’

‘Extra Large?’

‘No, certainly not Extra Large.’

‘Why didn’t you tell me this before?’

‘I thought you knew.’

‘Why would I know?’

‘I thought everyone knew.’

‘So we never estimated it?’

This causes Sammy to blush.

‘No, we never estimated it,’ he says, almost in a whisper.

‘So you let me go ahead and agree the deadline knowing that a Large bit of it hadn’t been estimated?’

There’s nothing Sammy can say to this, so he doesn’t.

Alice finds herself wondering two things. One is why is it that incredibly smart people sometimes do incredibly dumb things. The other is why do disasters always happen on a Friday afternoon, just before closing time.

‘We’ll have to estimate it now,’ she says and so, they do.

Contrary to what Sammy said, and confirming Alice’s worst fears, the filing system – chunk thirty-one – turns out to be Extra Large. (She wonders in passing, why people – and especially software people – are such bad estimators.) When this is grafted onto the plan, it adds an extra six weeks to it. This six weeks allows for the Christmas holidays (and general flakiness leading up to Christmas – this is Western Europe, after all). This puts the delivery date out to January 15.

Alice’s blood runs cold.

‘You’re going to have to tell B-Bob,’ says Sammy.

Sammy has a Ph.D. Alice wants to ask him whether it’s a doctorate in stating-the-bleeding-obvious. She can’t believe he’s done this to her. She wants to hit him. Instead, she asks, ‘Would you like to come along?’

‘I’ve got to pick up my daughter from school,’ says Sammy.

And so, Alice goes alone to B-Bob’s office, knocks on the open door and utters the standard classic line for Friday afternoon, ‘B-B-Bob’ – Alice’s stutter causes her to give B-Bob and an extra ‘B’ – ‘can I have a word?’

She takes B-Bob through what’s happened.

‘Nobody told me about it,’ Alice sums up, ‘but as the Project Manager, I have to accept the responsibility.

‘But that’s why you have contingency in the plan,’ says B-Bob, when she gets to the end. ‘Right? For unexpected things. That’s what you said when I wanted to take the Contingency out.’

‘When something like this happens on a project,’ says Alice, ‘there are three possibilities. This new chunk, chunk thirty-one, is either (a) a change to scope of the project or (b) not a change to the scope or (c) we’re not sure. I would argue that it’s clearly a change to the scope because it wasn’t on the original list of thirty chunks.’

‘But wasn’t it implied that it was part of the Software rewrite?’

‘But that was already an Extra Large chunk,’ says Alice. ‘If the Filing System by itself was Extra Large, how could the Software rewrite only be Extra Large. Surely then it would have to be classed as ‘Gigantic’ or something?’

‘So you’re telling me you don’t want to use the Contingency?’ said B-Bob.

‘I don’t, but even if I did, there isn’t enough. This is a major addition to the scope of the project. There’s not enough Contingency to cover it. The Contingency was never intended for something like this.’

‘So what does that do to the plan?’

Alice tells him and B-Bob swears.

‘I can’t keep going back to V.B.B. telling him the schedule has slipped again.’

Alice notices that B-Bob is sweating.

‘Any ideas?’ he asks Alice, in desperation.

Alice’s initial inclination is to tell Very Big Boss straight up – even if it means she or even B-Bob get fired. But on reflection, she realises that she can’t give V.B.B. the feeling that he’s on a roller coaster, that every time they call him there’s a new story and a new deadline.

‘Why don’t we say nothing for now,’ she says. ‘After all, November and January are a long way off. Anything can happen between now and then. Let’s see how we’re doing, maybe mid-year and then see how we deal with V.B.B. What do you think?’

B-Bob breathes a huge sigh of relief.

‘Okay,’ he says and that brings the second week of the project to a close.

Another dull week on the X Project, thinks Alice as she walks back to her office. She sees Reg coming towards her. Today’s Moomin T-shirt shows Moominpappa in a hammock. She puts up her hand, palm out, like a traffic cop at an intersection.

‘Don’t ask,’ she says.