Throwback Thursday: Can we set up a meeting about that?

This insurance company is updating its claims-processing software, and it's the biggest kind of deal, says a pilot fish in the mix.

"The entire 30-person IT department was working on aspects of the upgrade, which would affect the entire company," fish says. "But the primary responsibility for the upgrade fell upon the lead programmer.

"No one knew as much about the system as she did, and cross-training was at a minimum. Each programmer worked on his own subsystems and few had worked on the core of the program.

"The deadline was such a firm date that management wouldn't even let the lead programmer schedule more than three days for her honeymoon, because they couldn't afford to lose that much time."

But as the deadline looms ever nearer, the CIO gets nervous, so he and his managers start scheduling lengthy status meetings with the lead programmer. Soon she's spending as much time in meetings as she is working on the project.

Predictable result: The meetings cause her to fall behind schedule. Even more predictable result: More status meetings are set up to discuss why the project is behind.

"Finally, the lead programmer realized that her only way to finish this business-critical upgrade was to stop going to the meetings and work like mad," says fish. "She estimated that if she worked 80-hour weeks with no interruptions, she could finish and have the upgrade ready for testing in four weeks, just in time for the hard deadline."

With tensions high, the CIO calls an emergency four-hour meeting to discuss why the project is behind schedule. The lead programmer doesn't show up, because she's desperately working on the upgrade.

So the CIO fires her on the spot and has HR escort her out of the building.

The entire IT department is stunned. Nobody else knows the core programs. Multiple consultants are brought in to figure them out.

Then the CEO calls an emergency meeting for everyone associated with the project. Since the lead programmer was fired for not attending a meeting, everyone shows up.

Forty people wait for 35 minutes until the CEO appears for the hour-long meeting. His message: With the deadline only weeks away, not a single hour can be wasted, so everyone should make an extra effort -- and no one should attend any unnecessary meetings.

"The deadline came and went," fish says, "but the CIO apparently covered himself by reporting to the board that the situation was under control, the person responsible fired and consultants hired.

"Nine months and four consultants later, the system was upgraded.

"At least the lead programmer got her honeymoon."

Sharky loves a happy ending on a true tale of IT life. Send me yours at You can also comment on today's tale at Sharky's Google+ community, and read thousands of great old tales in the Sharkives.

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