Train Kept a Rollin' ... Right off the Track

Big, transfomational projects are all the rage, but the risk is usually worth the effort. But a lack of transparency, and overcommitment can harm trust relationships

The Dude's in the midst of a shitshow that is on the Craptanic on the way down on its maiden voyage. Some setup is in order.

The Dude builds content. Content that literally millions use to further their career by attaining knowledge, skills and abilities. This content needs to get to the people who are eager to soak it up and further their careers. They literally pay us thousands of dollars to achieve these results.

(and if the Dude is honest, he is extremely proud to work in this space)

The "how" this content reaches people is the subject of this post.

The Past

Since we combine simple content (graphics, text, videos, and exercises) with structured immersive hands on experience (one of our secret sauce ingredients) we have over the last decade or so built a platform that delivers this content. It works. It works well. It is simple, visually appealing, and by and large well received by the audience.

But it does have a flaw. It looks dated. As in, not fresh, not hip, and in a real lack of capabilities, it doesn't work as a responsive web app (that is, be equally functional on phones/tablets/PCs). By and large this is due to that immersive hands on experience, as in the real world, you are not performing the tasks on your phone.

Furthermore, we have historically had different routes to market. A strong B2B play, targeted at corporations with large training budgets (and the willingness to pay a premium price for a premium product), as well as a network of resellers who often have regional or industry expertise to move the product.

On top of that, we have a direct, B2C play, where we have a store front, where individual titles, or subsets of our content can be purchased by an individual with a credit card.

There are tons of challenges to having multiple routes to market with differing levels of overlap that the Dude won't get into, but let's leave it at is is confusing as fuck for people who want to buy our products, and they often give up and go to a 3rd party, and buy a less confusing, yet inferior product.

The Solution

Only one thing is constant at the Dude's company, and that is a revolving door of leaders at the top and at much of the senior tier of leadership in our group. Seriously, in the Dude's 6 years here, there have been 5 VP/GM's and in the last 20 months, the Dude has had 4 direct managers, and been shuffled between three Sr. Directors in the org. The Dude assures you that corporate hot potato is not a fun place to be.

But, about those 5 VP/GM's, each one of them has had a very different "Vision" for the org. One was so destructive, pivoting to their pet focus that they almost destroyed the org (she lasted just over 1 year).

The current leader does have a decent vision, and one that the Dudfe wholeheartedly agrees with.

Buying our products is complicated, difficult to navigate, and confusing as fuck. That alienates a not insignificant fraction of our addressable market, pushing them to lesser solutions that are easier to transact.

As such, our leader upon taking up the reins began putting in place a singular "portal" that our content will be sold, accessed through, and promoted, instead of the 4 different RTM's we have today, with a maze of rules and exceptions to cope with.

A great idea. But this is an enormous project, a project that will upend many power centers in our business unit, shake the trees, and piss off many of the middleware (aka middle level managers who fiercely defend their "turf") in the organization.

Undaunted by that prospect, the new leader began building a platform team to construct this new portal, given them a pretty large team, and a budget to go do this.

That team had autonomy, authority, its own product management director and team, and a significant fraction of our IT development team.

The Dude is not part of that effort, but he has heard dribs and drabs of the progress (this is largely because the changes in the distribution of the content has an impact on the Dude's work output, so he needs to know what is coming and when.)

Sure, they were supposed to go early access in January 2022, and that didn't happen. Then it was to be an invitation only test drive to give us data on user experience, and flow of the site that began in June, but was delayed to July, and now at the end of July (today is July 30, 2022) it isn't ready. In between the January and June milestones, the leader decreed that we will go GA (general availability) on November 1, 2022, and communicated that up their management train. That is the BHAG of all time. 3 months, 60-ish working days.

So, the Dude assumed that the platform was largely in place, and that we are mostly tweaking the small things.

Oh, how naive the Dude is, or was.

The Crapshow

The Dude has spent the last several weeks building the definitive list of our legacy content that will migrate to the new experience and seed the initial load. For scale, this is on the order of 15,000 individual pieces of content, from static documents, stand alone video, to full blown training courses.

The Dude has been assuming that when his groomed, cultivated, and ranked list was ready, that the new platform would be ready to ingest this content and serve it up in the new experience.

Last Friday, he presented to the platform team, a list of about 1,100 items that should be moved and ready for this early November commercial launch. Alas, he heard that currently, the new platform can't ingest or handle any of this legacy content, and that it isn't even in the backlog yet the features to allow this, and that all the development time between now and that GA date is already allocated on other things.

Holy fuck.

Worse yet, we are not at the "early access" stage, and that the platform development team is now equating GA with EA, and that the early access will start in November.

What. The. Actual. Fuck.

The Ramifications

It goes far beyond the work the Dude has done. That will eventually be useful. In fact this new information makes it easier for the Dude to cull the shit from the current catalog (the reason why it has 15K items was an effort to boost the content numbers to justify a stupidly overpriced library sales model). But it doesn't stop there.

For the last 18 months, all of the content that has been prioritized, scheduled, and built has been to the new platform and its requirements and paradigm of consumption.

Again, not wasted work, but reduced capacity, and fewer, but better items have been our mantra as we work to dovetail our  work product for the coming revolution in the user experience.

What Really Sticks in The Dude's Craw?

Hey, the Dude is no stranger to delays, and scope creep, and missed milestones. Agile or not, the work is the work, and something of this magnitude is a BHAG is certain to have wide error bars.

But what really stings is that the Dude is an insider, a part of the product management team - albeit not in the platform side - and after the expected first batch of outside users were to begin their testing of the system, he learns that it is this far off track, that what was promised is nowhere near ready, and that many of the table stakes are not even in the product owner's backlog at this time.

This is why the Dude has trust issues.

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