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Dream (or Nightmare)

A project gone wrong, and a flash flood

Chris Tham Chris Tham Thursday, 2 March 2023 at 11:00:00 am AEDT 4 min read

It started off well. I am back working as a management consultant. I am dropping into the offices of a prospective client in the morning. I haven’t been formally engaged yet, but I have high hopes. I have a brainwave of showing the client a framework whereby I can connect the current state to the target state via a set of strategic objectives, and I can link all the activities the client is doing in such a way to show how they contribute to achieving the objectives. All I need is half an hour to prototype the concept on Powerpoint, and I am confident the client will engage me fill out the framework for them.

When I arrived at the office, I discovered there’s quite a few people I know from previous engagements. I greeted them warmly,and hugged a few of them. I noticed while they were friendly towards me, their reception was a bit on the lukewarm side.

I then realised none of these people are working directly for the client, they are all working for a Big 4 consulting firm on a project with the client. So they all see me as a competitor. No wonder none of them even offered me a desk to sit on.

It didn’t really bother me, I had to attend a seminar at a local university soon, so I didn’t need a place to sit. I mentioned to a friend that we better leave soon, as the seminar was at 11am and it’s past 10. She replied distractedly that she had something to finish and I should go ahead and she’ll join me at 1pm. I realised immediately from the tone of her voice - whatever she was working on, the project is in trouble.

I glanced around. There are hundreds of people working on the floor. I did a quick mental calculation. The project burn rate must be in the millions per month, possibly millions per week. I happen to know the client does not have funding approval for a project this size, so how are all these people getting paid?

I started eavesdropping into conversations around me. I overheard phrases like “innovative funding model” and “self funded proposal”. I then realised some partner in the Big 4 consulting firm is taking an enormous risk by effectively funding the project as a development activity hoping for a cut in the profits.

I am carrying a lot of stuff, so I left some items behind and headed for the lifts. In the lift, I encountered a young man who looked vaguely familiar - I then remembered he used to work for an organisation that I have consulted for. That organisation had a huge project that ran into trouble and they ran out of funds in the end and were effectively using people from front line positions in the project without back-filling them, causing a lot of stress in the organisation.

The young man was talking about issues in the current project, and said “In the previous project I was in, they ended up halving my salary and I can barely pay my mortgage.” I felt sorry for him, and don’t think the current project will end happily for him either.

Anyway, we reached the ground floor and I exited the building. I discovered it had been raining heavily. The grounds were more than a little wet. My shoes were getting soaked and the street was turning into a river.

I saw a man in the street ahead of me. That street has flooded and the water level was rapidly rising above his waist and almost reaching his shoulders. He looked desperately at me, and suddenly without warning he was swept by the current and was being carried downstream.

I looked upstream, and in a panic realised a great amount of water was rushing towards us. It was like an Indiana Jones movie. Going to the seminar was now completely out of the question - it was now a case of survival. I quickly rushed back into the building. By now, the water has almost reached my knees. I knew there was no point heading into the lifts, they wouldn’t be operational by now.

I desperately searched for a fire stair so I can climb up.

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