The Cat in the Hat and the BI Project

Eyal BaschA few nights ago I was reading my kids one of their favorite books, “The Cat in the Hat Comes Back”, by Dr. Seuss. As I was reading the delightful sequence of “disasters” for the umpteenth time to the sound of my children’s laughter, another part of me was dealing with the surprising revelation that the events described in the book reminded me a lot of quite a few BI projects I was called in to rescue over the years.

For those who are not familiar with it, I am referring to the sequel to “The Cat in the Hat”. The Cat in the Hat invites himself over to the house where Sally and her brother live. He soaks in the tub while eating a cake, but this leaves a mess after the wash up is done. The Cat in the Hat proceeds to takes it upon himself to clean the mess, and from this point things quickly get out of hand. At this stage a series of original steps taken by the Cat in the Hat to clean the dirt is described, but every one of these steps make things worse. The cats that arrive to help him also complicate matters, until eventually the last and smallest cat (cat Z) pulls the “VOOM” out of his hat, which miraculously fixes everything.

Much like the events described in the book, BI projects also start out with a lot of optimism on the part of everyone involved. The implementing company declares that it has already done countless projects precisely of this kind. In addition, they have a unique methodology (that also bears an acronym that by some happy coincidence spells a word with a really positive meaning). This methodology ensures that the entire team will be working according to the rich experience the company has accumulated over the years and best practices employed by industry leaders from around the world.

“Have no fear of that ring” laughed the Cat in the Hat.
“Why, I can take cat rings off tubs just like that!”

However, as soon as the project gets started it turns out that the implementation is not exactly going as was hoped. The team is not as experienced as presented and is encountering a bit more difficulty than anticipated. It’s clear to everyone that this isn’t going to be simple but ultimately what’s important is the end result.

“Do you know how he did it? WITH MOTHER’S WHITE DRESS!
Now the tub was all clean, but her dress was a mess!”

In the status meetings the client raises his concerns about the way the project is being implemented. In response, the implementing company’s project manager reassures the client, stating that this is the natural progression in these types of projects. He adds that every project has its hitches and that the project team knows how to deal with these kinds of difficulties. He concludes by saying that the successful project they presented when they were doing their sales pitch had similar and even more numerous problems, and that the end result was excellent, as mentioned.

“Ho Ho, I can make the spot go.
The way I take spots off a dress is just so!
See here!” laughed the cat. “It is not hard at all.
The thing that takes spots off a dress is a wall.”

The project continues and the team encounters new challenges. At this stage the project manager acknowledges the fact that the project is more complicated than they had originally anticipated. He notes that now that they are so intimately familiar with the client’s activity, they understand just how complex the process is.

In order to get all those involved in the project on the same page, and to prevent the project from diverging, a list of “action items” is prepared. This is a list of issues that need to be dealt with in order to achieve the successful completion of the project. A coordinator is designated for each issue, as well as a timeline for the solution and status updates. In every status meeting they go through the issues that were solved and review the new issues that have been created. It seems that no issue can be closed without another issue being created.

“Oh, wall spots!” he laughed. “Let me tell you some news.
To take spots off a wall, all I need is two shoes!”

“His $10 shoes will have no spots at all.
I will rub them right off on this rug in the hall.”

“I can clean up these rug spots before you count three!
No spots are too hard for a Hat Cat like me!”

The project progresses like a feverous race and there seems to be no trace of the original plan left. The client decides to regain control and asks for a final list of action items to be created. In addition, the client asks for the project Gantt to be updated to reflect the current project plan.

The client stipulates that no divergence from the updated timeline will be acceptable, emphasizing that unlike the original plan, the updated plan has been made with full knowledge of all the relevant details.

In response the project manager assures the client that the project is being conducted in an ongoing manner according to an updated plan, even if that plan has not been presented in the status meetings, and that he would be happy to present it. He adds that it looks like the list of action items is shrinking and that they don’t expect any further surprises.

A short while later a bomb is dropped. A surprise.

A new and very serious problem has just been discovered. This is a problem that must be resolved or else it will prevent the project from being successfully implemented. In addition, it is agreed that this problem is not included within the framework of the project, and that it is the client’s responsibility to fix it. However, there is hope! The project manager says he is able to bring in extra manpower specializing in solving problems of precisely this type. Not only that, this specialist is someone who the project manager personally vouches for.

He ran into Dad’s bedroom and then the cat said,
“It is good that your dad has the right kind of bed.”

But the cat stood still. He just looked at the bed.
“This is not the right kind of bed,” the cat said.
“To take spots off THIS bed will be hard,” said the cat.
“I can’t do it alone,” said the cat in the hat.
“It is good I have someone to help me” he said.
“Right here in my hat on the top of my head!
It is good that I have him here with me today.
He helps me a lot, this is Little Cat A.”

After quite a few hurdles and a substantial number of team members who have come and gone, the project enters its final stretch: testing before handover.

However, now it turns out that this stretch is not so final and there are still some potholes.

The first clue reveals itself when a small portion of the data in the BI system is found to be inconsistent with the data from the operational systems. At first it seems that this issue will only take a few days to be solved, because of course no system is implemented without a bug or two. But then, as the scope of the testing increases, so does the number of problems. At this stage an even more severe problem is discovered, almost by chance. The client, despite the fact that the data is problematic, wants to see a demonstration of how the system interfaces handle a few business questions. The demonstration indicates that the model only partially supports these issues. The crisis reaches its peak and for the first time someone mentions that the project is a failure. Accusations are hurled and each of the parties goes through the specification and work documents to justify its position. However one thing is clear, the system cannot go on the air without major changes being made.

With no other choice and as a final recourse, the decision is made to hire an external specialist to come in and perform the changes necessary in order to salvage the system.

“Z is too small to see so don’t try. You cannot.
But Z is the cat who will clean up that spot!”

“And I bet you can’t guess what he has in his hat.
He has something called VOOM.
VOOM is so hard to get
You never saw anything like it, I bet.
Why VOOM cleans up anything, clean as can be.”

Then the Voom… it went VOOM!
And, oh boy! What a VOOM!
Now don’t ask me what Voom is. I never will know.
But, boy! Let me tell you it DOES clean up snow!

The project goes on the air and is a success. The sighs of relief can be heard from miles away. The hardships are quickly forgotten and everyone is busy patting themselves on the back. The project manager is quick to take advantage of the close relationship he now has with the client in an attempt to promote further collaboration.

“And so, if you ever have spots, now and then,
I will be very happy to come here again…”

As for the client, he’s planning on working with Cat Z.