Fighting the War of the Millennium

Strategies for Year 2000 Project Managers

"the absence of war is not peace."

Socrates issued this insightful comment well over 2000 years ago, but it has found renewed application in the present struggle against the looming Year 2000 crisis. At present, there is not a national or global state of emergency to deal with this menace, but that does not mean all is peaceful in the corporate and academic halls around the world. On the contrary, since the Year 2000 crisis has been receiving more attention lately, business and technical leaders have been faced with an unprecedented challenge to keep the business intact through and beyond a formidable task that spans all systems and impacts each business area.

There have already been countless articles written about the Year 2000 problem, many of which have focused on the technical aspects of identifying and converting non-compliant programs and testing their replacements. Those that are not technical have instead focused on raising the information-processing community's awareness to this imminent menace. Recently, more attention has been given to the significant legal aspects that will surely arise due to Year 2000-related issues. This article will address some key concepts, that have, thus far, been conspicuously absent from the discussion, namely, the project management tasks involved in this endeavor.

Good management has two critical ingredients: vision and leadership. The shelves of bookstores are full of selections on an array of leadership techniques, many of which can be successfully implemented in the Year 2000 Project. However, this article's focus will be on a manager's vision and that vision's significance in directing this "Mother of All MIS Projects." In essence, this problem was caused by a lack of vision; to solve this crisis, you will need exceptional vision.

To a manager, vision could be better described as "field-of-view". "Field-of-view" is the ability to see things at the macro and the micro level, as well as all levels in between. As a project manager, it is imperative that you are able to see not only the problem at hand, but also the one that lies just over the next hill. You must be able to switch your field-of-view from "Zoom" what type of windowing technique is being applied to a given application "Panoramic" aware of your firm's legal exposures with regard to non-compliant systems. Your ability to "see" the terrain ahead and how it will impact this project will be the critical factor in your success. Those who can seize the key terrain early, thus denying it to the enemy, will be in a much better position to wage war effectively. Thus, your role is to determine which terrain is key, and how place yourself in position to control it. To better illustrate the importance of vision in this endeavor, a military metaphor of the Year 2000 Project is appropriate.

As the Year 2000 Project Manager, you are the general of an army fighting to defend your country from an announced attack by a subtle, yet powerful, enemy. He has announced his intentions and made clear that his D-Day is January 1, 2000. Your mission is to deny him your territory and ensure your country's survival. In your arsenal you have troops (programmers), weapons (tools and utilities), and allies (suppliers, customers, consultants), and your job is to properly allocate these resources to achieve victory. Your enemy is not technologically sophisticated, but the sheer size of his forces and countless means of attack make him an extremely lethal adversary. He can strike via mainframe applications, PC networks, phone systems, security systems, numerous embedded chip systems, and others that may be peculiar to your industry. If your army is to win this conflict, it can not afford to have you in the trenches fighting the battle: you must remain at the command post, leading and directing the battle. You must retain the responsibility for transferring resources where they are most needed, moving new weapons to the troops, ensuring they are properly trained and compensated (you can't afford low morale), and communicating your battle plans to higher headquarters (CIO, CEO, Board of Directors). Your relationship with higher headquarters must be strong. It is imperative that you secure the resources required for a long and grueling campaign. You must keep the higher headquarters constantly abreast of your progress so that they may better address their constituents' (shareholders') concerns. You must be able to address short-term wins and losses, while maintaining focus on the entire war. You must realize the finite nature of your resources: troops can only effectively fight one battle at any given time. You cannot reasonably expect one platoon of soldiers to fight and win the entire war for your country. This is total war, and it will require all of the combined resources and efforts of your country. A small army hampers you? Perhaps it is time to find some mercenaries (consultants and outsourcing). These hired guns can assist you when the enemy is overwhelming in his numbers or complexity, but be careful about turning your entire campaign over to them. Remember, victory is ultimately your responsibility, and your country's survival depends upon it. In general, mercenaries are only as committed as your wallet is deep. There may be exceptions, but how much do they really have at stake? It will be the citizens of your country who will truly be loyal until the end. (Although you may find some of them opting for the mercenary route, as well.)

Are you beginning to understand a better definition of your role? As the general, it is incumbent upon you to make sure that there are no gaping holes for the enemy to pour through. You can only accomplish this by maintaining a wide field-of-view down the microscope and pull out the binoculars.

Since much has already been written in detail about attacking Year 2000 forces individually, I will address the overall campaign strategy. Your battle plan should focus broadly across four fronts:

1. Mainframe systems and applications

2. PC and Network systems and applications

3. Embedded chip issues (Phones, elevators, alarm systems, fire detection systems)

4. Legal and business issues

You must first develop an enterprise-wide plan that deals specifically with each of these fronts. Doing a thorough job on the first three issues will go a long way in preparing you to do battle on the final front. The widely accepted five-phase strategy is an effective strategy for the work ahead. These steps are: Awareness, Assessment, Renovation, Validation, and Implementation. These steps can be applied with equal effectiveness to the first three threats. Here is an abbreviated checklist to consider as a Year 2000 general:

Awareness:

Year 2000 Brief to Senior Management

Regular update meetings

Bulletin Board (on-line or paper) to keep staff abreast of progress

Year 2000 User Group member

Legal Exposure Briefing to corporate legal representative

Development of 3rd party vendor compliance survey

Develop mission statement and goals for each phase

Develop audit procedure to record all Year 2000 actions taken

Assessment:

Inventory (Mainframe, PC, Embedded Chips, etc.) ENORMOUS TASK

Define "What is compliance?"

Method of tracking compliant vs. non-compliant applications

Standard set for updating programs when they become compliant

Mail 3rd party vendor compliance surveys and letters

Track results of 3rd party vendor compliance surveys and letters

Pilot Project selected

Pilot Project renovated and tested

Pilot Project After Action Review (AAR)*

Establish upgrade/renovation units

Prioritize systems

Develop contingency plans (work-arounds) for high priority systems

Conduct tool analysis and selection

Estimate costs

Renovation:

Formalize/standardize renovation procedures (expansion vs. logic criteria)

Formalize renovation reporting criteria

Track renovation by individual system

Mainframe application

PC BIOS

3rd party software

Elevators

Utilities

Etc

Negotiate Embedded Chip upgrades (if required)

Track cost of renovation by individual system

Validation:

Formalize/standardize validation procedures

Formalize validation reporting criteria

Track validation by individual system

Negotiate embedded chip testing procedures (if possible)

Track cost of validation by individual system

Implementation:

Establish help-desk procedures for Year 2000 related problems

Develop log to track all Year 2000 related bugs

Maintain detailed audit trail of all Year 2000 actions

*The AAR is a key tool in developing and refining your Year 2000 Plan. It is a meeting that brings together key players in a given phase of the project. The goal of the AAR is to identify all problems and issues encountered during the phase. Each issue is addressed as follows:

Issue:

Discussion:

Recommendation:

Action:

This format allows a structured analysis of each problem and forces the group to communicate the issue and its effect on the project. It also identifies an action that will be taken to prevent it from happening in the future (or in the case of a positive observation, ensures it happens in the future).

The checklist above is the skeleton of a Project Plan that could be implemented to wage the War of the Millennium. These steps have been greatly generalized and should be developed in greater detail to your company-specific situation.

There are other roles for the Year 2000 generals as well: besides being great warfighters, they must also be competent diplomats. Since the enemy can infiltrate from any direction (see map), it is critical that you coordinate battle plans with your allies to ensure that no flanks are left exposed. Failure to address this aspect of the conflict could lead to disaster, despite your best internal preparations. An enemy date occurrence (a 2-digit year, for instance) could surreptitiously infiltrate a supplier's system, become disguised as a routine EDI transaction, and gain access to your otherwise renovated systems, causing a corruption of data whose audit trail would be enigmatic to trace. One example of this could happen if you and your suppliers use two different windowing thresholds. If your country's logic standard for a 2-digit year is that any value greater than "70" is in the 20th century, but your supplier uses "50" as the cutoff, what happens to your data integrity if he sends you the year "60" in an EDI transaction? Your applications will interpret the meaning as 1960, while your supplier will believe that it is 2060. This could cause tremendous problems for inventories and asset management. In light of this, it is obvious that this is no time for isolationism. You must reach out to your allies, share information, and assist each other wherever possible. Join a Year 2000 User Group technological adaptation of the "League of Nations", whose goal is to seek and find the best means of defeating this common foe.

As the general, you are responsible for the successful completion of all of these tasks. You must direct action across all four fronts in parallel, not in series. You cannot win the war by defeating the enemy on a single front at a time. You must maintain simultaneous pressure on mainframe, PC, network, embedded chip and legal issues constantly. There will be many times when you need to focus your attention on a given area of operations, but you cannot allow yourself to become so involved with that battle that you lose your field-of-view. To do this, you risk exposing yourself on one of the other three fronts you neglected. At least once each week, you should ask yourself, "What have I done to fight this war on each front the past 5 days?"

The War of the Millennium is a challenge whose scope is unparalleled in the history of MIS departments. Victory is contingent upon the general's ability to sustain the proper field-of-view throughout the conflict. If your vision is too narrow, you risk allowing the enemy to advance unopposed across large, unprotected fronts. If it is too broad, you will permit rogue groups of hostile forces to attack you in small, devastating pockets. You must achieve the correct balance of vision: maintaining general awareness of individual battles while retaining comprehensive control over the entire war. You should not be the one making code changes to non-compliant programs, you cannot be the one running the scan utility searching for troublesome date occurrences: if you are, you have surrendered your field-of-view. Keep in mind, while you are busy doing that programming, the enemy is advancing on all other fronts. If you are properly supervising the battle across all fronts, you won't have time to be in the trenches fighting individual instances of the evil, non-compliant code.

However, you cannot forget about the other aspect of project management, leadership. Suffice it to say, this is one project that you must lead! The successful Year 2000 generals will be aggressive, proactive leaders. They will not wait for the enemy to infiltrate their perimeter will go forward, find him and destroy or neutralize him before he can do any damage. Use observation posts well ahead of your front lines to locate the enemy before he has an opportunity to mass his forces. The best observation post is an accurate inventory. By finding the enemy early, you can determine how and where he will attack, thus allowing your army time to develop an effective battle plan. The War of the Millennium is one case where "the best defense is a good offense." This is especially true because this war will only last another thirty months.

So, be a leader and maintain your field-of-view. If you are successful 20 years from now, when your grandchildren ask you what you did in the Great War of the Millennium, you won't have to say something about shoveling manure in Louisiana. You can say you fought hard and defeated the greatest threat technological society has ever known (paraphrased with apologies to General George S. Patton).