CIO.com: What is it that the companies who contact you are looking for?
Coyne: The more visionary customers understand that if I've been through that number of disputes, then the chances are good that I'm going to understand how to steer them through the murky waters of their technology implementation and how to avoid [failure] in the future. [For more on this topic see, After a Massive Tech Project Failure: What IT Can Expect.]
I'm working with some pretty big global companies-both [technology] suppliers and customers-on dispute avoidance, just to be "the voice of reason" on a monthly or six-week basis: Come in and have a look at where the project is going and see if I can tease it back on track.
Almost like a "project conscience." It helps people see what's important to the project, because project teams invariably get too close and involved in the details, and they lose sight of the direction of where the project is actually going.
CIO.com: Do you usually get a warm or frosty reception?
Coyne: There's often suspicion, because historically I've been the customers' champion, and in court cases, I've generally been acting as counsel to the customer against the big, bad technology supplier that's let them down.
So often it's a very frosty reception from the computer vendors. I'm involved in project at the moment, involving BT and EDS, and often when I get wheeled in front of those guys I hear: "Oh, are we in a dispute? I thought this guy only got involved when the relationship is over and we're on our way to court."
CIO.com: How do you sell yourself to all these groups of people involved?
Coyne: I've got to demonstrate credibility. The way to do that is to show them that I'm vehemently independent. And whilst I might be instructed by the purchasing organization-the end-user customer-or when I might be instructed by the technology provider-the supplier in relationship-if it's the case that either of the parties has failed to discharge their obligations to the agreement (because it's generally not all one-sided), then I will be constructively critical of either party.
The way that I convince people to contract with me is to explain to them that I've seen practically every different type of dispute stage. And if for too long a long time a customer has been considering whether they should kill or cure a project, then it seems that they've generally not known how to cure it. I'm the only option available to them.
My standard sell is a 12-week exercise. At the end of 12 weeks, we'll have either cured or killed the project. And I exit, with the project either back on track or killed. It's sometimes the case that when I'm exiting, I'm bringing the lawyers in to deal with termination. But more often than not, I'm handing it back to the project managers, and I carry on being retained as this "program conscience."
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