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Posted by Jost Hoppermann on October 22, 2010
A few days ago, I “rediscovered” a brochure from a museum in Stockholm. It reminded me of an early 17th century warship: The Vasa. She was the most powerful warship of her time — albeit for less than half an hour, as she sank during her maiden voyage. The reasons for this disaster include top management interference, overly sophisticated requirements, weak communication, and overengineering. Why is this relevant today? Because projects have not changed that much: The Vasa story reminds me of a number of interactions I had with Forrester clients about banking platform transformation projects that ran well — or not so well.
A large share of the less-successful projects showed a number of the ingredients of the Vasa story, causing what I like to call the Vasa effect: predictable failure. Examples include:
I also saw well-prepared banking transformation projects based on strategic business and IT plans and sensible, albeit not too detailed, medium-term planning that show many ingredients that enable rich business value for their respective banks. However, these projects are not yet the majority. Are these successful projects an indicator that the Vasa effect will soon be a thing of the past for banking transformation projects — or just some glimmer of hope? As always, please let me know what you think: JHoppermann@Forrester.com.
The Vasa Story In A Nutshell
During the Thirty Years’ War, a Swedish shipyard won contracts to build a number of smaller and larger warships, one of them being the Vasa. During the construction, Gustav II Adolf, King of Sweden, sent very specific orders regarding core design parameters that included, for example, an exact length — which put it in between the planned length of the two classes of ships — as well as heavy armament that made two gun decks mandatory: Vasa’s broadside is said to be the heaviest of her time. In addition to this top-management interference, the project manager changed, as the initial shipwright died before Vasa’s construction was complete. It certainly does not come as a surprise that the king, spurred by the fate of war, demanded the fastest possible delivery of the Vasa.
The outcome? Trials had shown already that Vasa was top-heavy and highly unstable: It had nearly capsized at the quay. But project staff (shipbuilders and shipwright) and procurement personnel (officers of the Swedish navy) did not dare tell the king about Vasa’s challenges or at least postpone the maiden voyage. Thus, Vasa left the harbor, capsized, and sank within less than a mile or 1.5 kilometers from the harbor. Afterwards, looking for the guilty got the highest priority.
If you are interested in more details, have a look at the Vasa museum Web site or visit the museum itself when you are in Stockholm (I highly recommend it).
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