My War Story: Worst Project Ever

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People in Japan work long hours. Especially those in the IT sector. I spent 6 years working 60-80 hour weeks and was involved in some crazy projects. This is a first hand account on the worst project I have ever seen or heard of.

I was probably 25 or so and it was the first project I was assigned to as a leader. I was to manage a couple of programmers (who were both in their 40′s, which is completely unrelated, but one of them used to program with punched cards. PUNCHED CARDS!) to develop a data migration tool. Yes, this project required 3 programmers full time about 6 months to develop a tool just for data migration. This was because we were a small part of a $10mm+ ERP project for one of Japan’s biggest companies to be unnamed, and the implementation was led by a public system integrator also to be unnamed. The data migration tool development was complicated but contained. However, the ERP implementation project was just insanely out of control. I got to sit court side for the fireworks.

The lesson here is, never bite off more than you can chew. The main implementation partner did not have the skills or experience necessary for such a large scale ERP project. What ensued was your classic scope creep story that brought seemingly endless new use cases. With the client being so huge, they were basically customizing SAP to a level that the system was not designed to accommodate, but no one had the balls to say no. There were more than 200 developers coding furiously what seemed like 24/7 and people were getting worn out. Most developers were working 7days and putting in 100+ hours week in and week out and trying to handle an endless string of requirements change. The whole project room had a stench of guys not showering in a week and the atmosphere was literally that of a death march. There was no redemption or silver lining. We were bound to fail and there was nothing anyone can do about it. But for some strange reason, everyone worked their asses off and refused to see the reality that we were doomed.

For me the most interesting part was seeing how people snapped under this extreme stress. The overall project manager developed ulcers and had to pass stones with his urine, which apparently was excruciatingly painful. But he was better off than some people. I actually saw ambulances come in to the office on two different occasions. Once in an afternoon on a Wednesday where a guy was getting carried off sitting on a stretcher, staring at blank space seemingly lost the will to move. The other one was on a Sunday afternoon. This guy must have not left the office or taken a shower in days. Two paramedics held each of his arms and he had wet his pants and was drooling and screaming incomprehensible words while he got dragged away. This guy was in such a primal state of being that he was barely functioning as a human being.

More than a year later the project was halted with nothing to show for. The contract guaranteed deliverables, which meant the client didn’t have to pay a penny and the main implementation partner bared all cost. For the 200+ people involved, not a single person was better off (except arguably for my team. We got paid, were relatively unharmed, and I got to see some things you don’t see everyday).

This was my war story. Anyone else got some interesting war stories? Let’s trade war stories.

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