Trouble With Philadelphia's Water Billing System Is Case Study

Excerpt from Case Study :

trouble with Philadelphia's water billing system is a technical problem or a people problem? Why?

From the case study it is at first difficult to separate the two and decide whether the issue rests mainly with the people involved or the system. The people who developed the system did not anticipate using it for such a broad application, so they are responsible for not preparing the system for such an application before they tried to use it. The system itself cannot handle the complex load required of a water billing system to the 500,000 customers that reside in Philadelphia. In the end, it seems more likely that this was "operator error" more than something that was wrong with the system itself. This will become apparent in the following discussion.

The first group of people who made an error were the city officials who did not conduct an adequate amount of research before they selected a plan. Oracle is known to have reliable IT solutions, but it would have been simple for the people in charge of acquiring the needed system to look at the company's track record. Oracle was made for projects that are much smaller in scale, and this could have been very easily determined. Because the city managers did not initially do their homework, they are largely responsible for the delays and cost overruns that have occurred.

The people at Oracle may be even more responsible. They knew what their system would do, and they still decided that they could take on a project that was beyond their capabilities. It would have been better if they had developed the needed system before they decided to take on a job that was too complicated for what they could offer. The case study relates that the Oracle systems had worked well in the past for other projects that they had taken on, but these projects were not close to the scale of the Philadelphia project. Trying to work on the fly to correct the flaws in the system as applied to this much larger project has obviously meant that there have been delays.

On the other hand, Oracle has said that they have met what the agreement spelled out, so this is, again more of a city manager issue. The city managers should have known the scope of the project, and been able to tell what type of system they needed while they were searching. It seems, from the case study, that the water department knew that the system was not sufficient to conduct billing operations for the city, and this should have been heeded by the mayor's council and other decision makers.

It does not seem that there was an adequate plan in place when the project was begun. Apparently the goal was known, but alternatives to reach that goal were not researched carefully enough. The stakeholders involved in the initial planning of the project should have paid more attention to what the final goal was. There was also a need to use some of the techniques discussed throughout the text to ensure that the project went well. This case is a demonstration of what happens when the planning phase of the project is not given enough gravity. Apparently, the city managers believed that they would get the best possible product from Oracle without doing much planning, and Oracle too on the project without examining their software to the needed extent. Because the people did not don their jobs, the software aspect was doomed from the start.

2. a. Discuss the criteria that should be used to make a project selection decision.

The decision whether or not to take on a particular project is often not an issue because there are no competing projects that interfere with each other. However, sometimes time is of the essence and a manager must decide between several seemingly worthy projects. According to the text, the method used to make such a decision is called the "balanced approach." It is balanced because it uses four selection criteria that are not weighted, but given equal importance when choosing the project. The four criteria are finance, customer satisfaction, internal business processes, and the organization's ability to innovate and learn (60). These criteria take into consideration all of possible aspects of any given project that are important to a company.

This four-pronged approach provides a much more reliable baseline than traditional financial planning alone can provide. The text says that traditional financial measures have been likened to "steering the boat by watching the wake" (61). It is important to consider the financial aspects of any plan because stakeholders will expect fiscal responsibility, but this cannot be the only criteria. Customer satisfaction plays into the plan because it is the customer who is the most important stakeholder to the business. If the goal is to make money, as it usually is in business, then the people who supply the money by purchasing products or services are more important than anything else. The processes tie the financial and customer perspectives together for the most part. The processes that the company uses must be maximized so that financial and customer satisfaction goals are reached. Finally, if a company is not learning from its current and past processes, then it is not moving forward. The balanced plan has to allow the company to progress toward its larger goals.

b. What is a baseline plan? What purpose does it serve once the project team begins to execute the project plan?

The text, on page 18, defines a baseline plan as that which "defines the projects scope, schedule and budget and is used as a tool to gauge the project's performance throughout the lifecycle." This is the initial plan during which the foundational questions are asked and answered. With this plan, the project manager(s) has the ability to construct the more detailed elements of the project.

This plan is used throughout the project to make sure that every aspect of the project is on time and being completed to the agreed upon specifications. It is "reviewed by the project manager, project sponsor and the project team" to make sure that everyone understands what is required of both the team and the what the end product of their endeavors will be. On page 93 of the text it says that "once the project plan is approved, it becomes the baseline plan which will serve as a benchmark to measure and gauge the project's progress." However, it is just a guide, and it can be changed as more information becomes available.

One of the primary purposes of the plan besides that of benchmark is to keep the project on track. "The project manager will use the baseline plan to compare the actual schedule to the estimated schedule and the actual costs to the budgeted costs." The reason that the project manager keeps a close eye on the plan is because this is the plan that was agreed to by all stakeholders in the project. If it becomes necessary to change elements of the plan because of unforeseen difficulties, then it is the project manager who should have a clear grasp of what was expected and what the new expectation will be. He or she must be able to communicate this effectively to the project sponsor, so that if more money or time is needed the project manager can go directly to the plan and show the steps that will need to be changed and why.

3. 1. Create a list of project stakeholders.

The primary stakeholder for this project is Scully because it is his company, and because he is the power behind Husky and because he controls the finances. He needs to look at all aspects of the project as he is the project sponsor and work with the project manager to set the baseline plan for the project. He is also responsible for easing or moving a few potential roadblocks. Since he is the CEO he is able to let employees go of they are no longer able to perform their duties up to the changing standards of the company. However, he should not be quick to remove employees because there may be repercussions if he removes the wrong employee without giving her time to acclimate to the new standard.

Alma has said that she will retire if she has to learn a new, complicate system. But, she has always kept the record for the flights, and she is the one indispensable link in this chain. She knows the pilots and they respect her; she knows and has connections with suppliers of needed goods; and she has been a valuable employee for many years. Her present stubbornness notwithstanding, Alma is essential to the success of this program. She also needs to be flexible because this is a humanitarian effort which is more important than her fear of technology.

The project manager, Tim, has a need to see this project work successfully,…

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