Month 11: Dragons, snakes, and oh yeah, here comes the finish line.
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As Churchill Downs Inc.'s CRM project entered month 11, Vice President of CRM and Technology Solutions Atique Shah found himself thinking more about reptiles--specifically, the leadership qualities of dragons and the beguiling "SQL snake"--than horses.
As the project's year-one deadline approached, the project team's focus has grown almost entirely tactical. "It's all about getting things done," he says. "We don't talk about strategy or blue-sky scenarios. Our team members are solely focused on meeting their objectives so that the solution can be deployed."
This single-mindedness is necessary, according to Shah, but it can cause problems when combined with deadline pressures. Each of the CRM team's dozen members possesses a core area of expertise, such as email marketing, Web-site design, data warehouse design, or application development. As the year-one finish line approaches, each team member must troubleshoot obstacles as quickly as possible. Solving those problems often involves a call to Shah for insight and assistance. Sometimes, a sense of territorial competition flares up as the team members vie for Shah's counsel.
"When you have strong, talented people on your team, they expect and deserve a rapid, thoughtful response from me," Shah says. "But I can stretch myself too thin, which is not a good thing to do at this stage of our race." So, Shah called in his "dragons."
That's how he refers to the three senior-most members of his team: Director of CRM and Technology Solutions Larry Waters, Director of Online Channel Strategy Jeremy Borseth, and Director of CRM Operations Ray Pait.
Earlier in the project Shah relayed in separate conversations with his three directors a story from China's Ming Dynasty about three great warriors who were referred to as the red dragon (known in Chinese culture for its wisdom, grace, and strength); the green dragon (passion, patience, and persistence); and the blue dragon (might, agility, and speed). The references might seem a bit hokey, but Shah insists that it is a fun--and highly effective--way of encouraging his talented directors to flex their strengths at crucial points during the project.
"Strong individuals thrive when their strengths are recognized," Shah says. "You have to make sure that they understand why you have the utmost confidence in them. Since I can't be everywhere at all times, I lean more heavily on my directors to provide support and leadership to the rest of the team right now."
A less welcome creature appeared during an earlier stage of the project, when the decision was made to develop the E.piphany 6.5 SQL environment. Shah cringes when he admits that he did not resist the tempting cost-savings the SQL environment offered. That call came back to bite the project team when it came time to move from an SQL development environment to the Oracle database architecture that the CRM system will sit on during the user acceptance testing (UAT) phase and, ultimately, when the system goes live.
The allure of SQL, which runs on Win-tel (Windows machines powered by Intel processors) hardware, is that it is less expensive and easier to support than Oracle architecture, which runs on more expensive UNIX hardware. "From a cost-and-resource perspective, [SQL] looked so good," Shah says. "We couldn't resist." The problem is that the move from SQL to Oracle takes time. Database schemas, table structures, database structures, and ETL processes have to be reengineered or repeated, processes that require three to five weeks.
That delay, at such a late stage in the first phase, could poison an enterprise software implementation. Fortunately, Shah's team was at least five weeks ahead of schedule, so the transition from SQL to Oracle qualified more as a sting than a painful bite.
Eric Krell, a freelancer based in Austin, TX, prefers horses to snakes and dragons
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