In his twelve years as a technology project manager at A&D High Tech, Chris Johnson had a strong track record of delivering projects: Project Management For IT Case Study, UTM, Malaysia

University Universiti Teknologi MARA (UTM)
Subject Project Management For IT

A&D High Tech (A):

Managing Projects for Success

In his twelve years as a technology project manager at A&D High Tech, Chris Johnson had a strong track record of delivering projects on time and on budget. His techniques for project planning, estimating, and scheduling had
become best practices at the St. Louis-based computer products company.

He had just led a project team that successfully revamped the supply chain systems in less than eighteen months. He was especially proud since many observers had doubted that the project could be completed on time. As part of the strategic initiatives set forth by its CEO and founder, Ted Walter, A&D was to be second to none in utilizing technology to increase operational efficiency and reduce costs.

The supply chain project therefore received notable attention in the boardroom and with its competitors. Time and again, Johnson was asked to tackle difficult assignments that were critical to the company’s growth and profits. He had already been mentioned as the successor to the vice president of e-business, Chuck Gagler, pending his retirement.

In early May 2013 Johnson received an urgent message from the company’s CIO, Matt Webb. Webb asked Johnson to join him for a meeting with A&D’s senior managers to discuss taking over the company’s online store project.

Johnson realized that up to that point the company’s top brass had virtually ignored the Internet and its sales potential. But that situation was about to change. As Webb explained, A&D’s vice president of sales, Jeff White, had advised CEO Ted Walter that A&D was losing its competitive advantage by not selling online.

As a result, Walter had made the online store project the company’s highest priority. Walter wanted to know whether the project could be completed in time for the holiday shopping season, when A&D’s cyclic business traditionally boomed.

The current project manager, Eric Robertson, was taking a one-month leave of absence due to a family emergency, just as he was about to begin formulating the project plan and make staffing decisions.

Johnson immediately began thinking about the best way to ensure the online store project. He was concerned that there was too little time to get up to speed on this new project. It was already May, and the holiday season would approach soon. Given the urgency put forth by Webb and Walter, Johnson was already feeling pressure to come up with solid recommendations in short order.

Business Case

A&D High Tech sold computer products, accessories, and services to consumers and small businesses. The company had its roots in Lincoln, Nebraska, where Ted Walter started its first store in 1998. A&D’s made-to-order products were very innovative at the time, and were the first to be introduced in the personal computer industry.

Walter emphasized friendly customer service, a value that was deeply ingrained in the culture of the Midwestern heartland where Walter had lived his entire life. A&D’s revenues grew consistently for ten years and approached
$400 million for fiscal year 2010. The company was primarily a regional player, with more than 90 percent of sales coming from customers in the Midwestern states.

However, Walter was strategically seeking to increase its distribution nationally. In 2013, faced with tough competition and decreasing margins, A&D decided to explore new segments of the market for growth. In particular, it focused on sales via the Internet. Historically, A&D was shy to adopt the Internet as a sales channel because it did not seem to play to the company’s sales strength of friendliness and customer service. However, since A&D’s products were approaching commodity status, the

product cost was largely the determining factor for a customer. Furthermore, competitors had successfully increased their revenues and recognized cost savings in selling, general, and administrative expenses (SG&A) per order
after starting to sell through the Internet.

So in early 2014, Ted Walter and vice president of sales Jeff White gave the go-ahead to CIO Webb to begin the project to create an online store.

Project History

Webb created a cross-functional team of six people to plan the project based on his “build” decision. Led by Eric Robertson, a young but bright IT project manager, the team’s planning components included:
• Define the business requirements
• Define the process flows
• Create the technical architecture requirements
• Build a simple prototype of the system
• Create the work breakdown structure (WBS) for the project
• Estimate the effort for each of the tasks in the WBS
• Define the resources available for the project and assign resources to project tasks

• Create a schedule with task dependencies and proper resource allocation

After four weeks, the team presented its findings to the steering committee. A summary outcome for each of the planning tasks is listed below.

BUSINESS REQUIREMENTS

The scope and business requirements of the online store included new orders, add-on orders, order amends, order status, and lead capture with the following capabilities:

• Configuration and pricing
• Delivery date based on standard lead times
• Real-time payment processing
• 100 percent validation of required data
• Collection of prospect data about customers
• Integration to back-end (ERP) for manufacturing and order management Senior management was adamant that the system incorporate this set of minimum functionality since customers must have the same experience across all sales channels. As Jeff White put it:

Once an order has been made and it gets into the back-end ERP, I don’t see why we need to distinguish whether the customer shopped in our stores or made the order on the phone or the Internet. We should serve them with the
exact care and quality that one comes to expect from A&D.

PROCESS FLOW

The introduction of Internet sales would have little impact on the current process at A&D, since it simply served as a new front to its existing activities. In fact, all existing activities would remain the same. New activities to support Internet sales, such as exception handling due to system errors, would be added to the IT support procedures.

TECHNICAL ARCHITECTURE

Since A&D carried a range of products that ran the Windows operating system, A&D had standardized all custom applications to run on this platform. The online store’s architecture was N-tiered for greater flexibility and future scalability).

The first tier was the Web server layer. The Web server was the Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS). Server side scripts were to be coded in MS Application Server Pages (ASP). The second tier was the application server
layer.

The application server was the Microsoft Transaction Server (MTS). The application components would leverage Microsoft Site Server and the Microsoft Site Server Commerce Edition components. Databases to support the application were to run on Microsoft SQL Server. The communication tier was the middleware Microsoft Messaging Queue (MSMQ). Through MSMQ, the application would access J. D. Edwards.

Other back-end applications and databases existed but would not be interfaced by the online store. All software licenses were already in-house, so Robertson did not expect to incur any expenses from procuring software.

PHYSICAL INFRASTRUCTURE

A&D’s physical infrastructure was planned to be fairly typical for a company that conducted commerce over the Internet. For security, two firewalls were set up with a demilitarized zone (DMZ) in between.

Situated in the DMZ were servers that were accessible by the Internet and by A&D’s partners. Behind the second firewall was A&D’s internal network, or intranet. The servers behind this second firewall were only accessible in the intranet.

Robertson’s team estimated that they would need twelve Windows 2012 workstations (at $3,000 each) and five Windows 2012 servers (at $12,500 each) for the project.

PROTOTYPE

A prototype consisting of static HTML pages was built by Robertson’s team to demonstrate the application’s user interface and general flow. Exhibit 1 shows a screen print of the order confirmation page. The prototype was
approved by the vice presidents of sales and marketing, and would serve as a basis for the actual application’s appearance and functionality.

PROJECT WBS

Robertson’s team created a complete WBS that detailed all the tasks that needed to be performed for the project as of May 26, 2014. See Exhibit 2 for the complete WBS.

TASK ESTIMATES

Estimates were created for each task as part of the planning effort. Robertson’s team had some experience in IT project estimating, so they were fairly confident that the total project estimate would be close to the actuals. See Exhibit 3 for listing of the estimates for each task.

PROJECT RESOURCES

All the resources for the project had been identified except for the software developers. For A&D in-house developers, a flat rate of $75/hour was traditionally used for estimating purposes. But since there were no developers available internally, Robertson had solicited a contracting company, Geneva, to staff these positions.

For the contractors, the rates varied depending on skill level and their market value. Moreover, the overtime rates for contractors were different from the A&D standard rate. (Overtime was defined to be more than eight hours of work in a day.)

By May, Geneva was still identifying the actual resources needed but had provided the resources’ rates so that Robertson could prepare the estimates. See Exhibit 4 for a list of the resources and their appropriate rates. Robertson’s team also examined the tasks and made assignments accordingly. See Exhibit 5 for the resource assignments.

PROJECT SCHEDULING

As a final step in preparing for the project plan, Robertson scheduled all the tasks by adding dependencies (or predecessors) and calculating the leveling delay required to properly allocate all the resources. See Exhibit 6 for
the schedule. The predecessors were identified using a Task ID. This was different from the WBS ID.

Review Meeting

When Johnson walked into the conference room fifteen minutes before the start of his meeting with A&D’s senior managers to discuss the online store project, he found Webb and Robertson already there. As the other attendees
filed into the room, Robertson was sorting through a stack of papers, giving a set to each of them. Jeff White, the vice president of sales, and Chuck Gagler, the vice president of e-commerce, arrived just as Webb was ready to start the meeting.

Webb outlined the purpose of the meeting, which was to facilitate the effective transition between Robertson and Johnson, as well as to update senior managers on the project’s status. As Robertson was going through the details of the work that had been performed by his team, Johnson began to feel more at ease.

He recognized that Robertson had done well in gathering all the relevant data to create a good project plan. Despite the challenge to quickly overcoming the learning curve of a new project, Johnson felt more comfortable that he could come up with a detailed recommendation along with strong facts and potential issues.

As the meeting ended, Webb pulled Johnson aside and told him, “I know I may be asking a lot here, but I really need you to get the plan together in the next week. Walter really wants to know if we can get this thing done by
Christmas.”

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