Project Management Case Study #1

Data Center - Service Delivery Challenges


I held the position of Data Center Manager within the Dallas locale and had been hired by the division President to resolve multiple service delivery issues within his data center. At the time of this project assignment, the transformation of the Dallas data center had been underway for about a year and significant progress had been made.

red target

Data center management within my company utilized a leveraged model and it was common practice to borrow and lend expertise across the globe as the need dictated – it was a logical and cost effective strategy for utilizing SMEs within their respective disciplines.

After the Dallas data center had stabilized, I was asked to lead a service delivery project team as a neutral third-party for an out-of-state data center. This data center was located on the eastern seaboard of the United States and experiencing numerous service delivery problems.

In addition to the service delivery issues that were occurring, the client most affected by these problems refused to pay my company a $1M invoice for services. This action served as a protest to the frequently recurring service outages.

Until this time, I’d had no interactions with the problem data center and was asked to lead the project to resolve the problems. I was in essence a hired-gun being brought in to review the problems from a fresh perspective with no attachments to the data center or the resources that supported it.

Project Goals, Listed By Priority

My Data Center Solution

Project Plan and Schedule

The problem resolution plan itself was fairly straightforward and did not contain unnecessary complexity. There were approximately fifty major tasks with one to a half dozen sub-tasks under each major task equating to approximately 300 tasks within the WBS. There were eight milestones and the schedule indicated a six month effort with the available resources earmarked for the project. Immediate improvements were anticipated on the front-end with more strategic benefits being realized on the project’s back-end.

Change Management

The team used well-known Change Management principles and a core team of SMEs reviewed change activity for technical feasibility, risk, criticality, back-out plans, scheduling, implementer technical ability, implementer success history, test plans and so on. The departures from the standard change management policies were that every single change was reviewed in this manner, including supposed medium and low-impact activity. These changes were carefully scheduled, tracked and marking a change as successful required a more stringent management sign-off process.

Project Challenges and Solutions

Some of the problems I encountered and solutions I implemented as PM were:

Limited SME assistance is a very troubling problem to overcome and has to be managed carefully. The Project Management implications are many, not the least of which are project schedule impacts and having to delay until the next available window. Of course any change that is backed out and rescheduled receives significant attention from project stakeholders. Meanwhile, the project team is spending its time triple checking every aspect of a given change rather than moving the project forward elsewhere. It’s fair to say that stakeholders were empathetic but not necessarily sympathetic to our cause.

Goal #1 Accomplished

"Resolve chronic data center service delivery outages and stop the underlying cause."

This first goal was a challenge. Two significant outages were experienced since project inception and we were about four months into our six month length of term. Although two outages had occurred, this was a dramatic departure from the multiple outages experienced before the team was formed. These outages were painful but we were consistently meeting our SLA requirements as a company.

Goal #2 Accomplished

"Obtain the $1M payment that was withheld by the client due to problems with service delivery."

After a two month time period the team, through status updates, system stability and measurable forward progress, convinced the client that we were headed in the right direction. The client resolved the disputed $1M invoice.

Goal #3 Accomplished

"Propose short and long-term strategy recommendations for stakeholder review, budgeting and implementation approval."

The short-term strategy was formulated, proposed, and implemented on day one of the project. A three-year plan was also proposed and supplied to all stakeholders and team members for budgeting and incorporation into the overall service delivery strategy for the client.

Root Cause Analysis - Abridged

The information below is a synopsis of the root causes from the project and addresses the reasons these systems and associated support began to systemically fail.