train crash

The Hertz project sounds painfully familiar.

When I first heard about the Hertz/Accenture project that went horribly awry, it was pretty funny. Who on Earth thought that an eight-figure, 18-month behemoth project, on a complicated and persnickety CMS platform, would be a good idea? Of course it went sideways immediately and stayed that way. What could Hertz have even been expecting for $32 million – was the new website supposed to be made of diamonds?

But this story also sounds painfully familiar. I was once tasked with a project in which company leadership brought in a different large technology services firm. We as a client were not prepared with internally agreed-upon requirements, or even the content to populate the new pages. But the real problem was that the firm we engaged just… never did anything right.

Problems from the start

From the outset, their designs did not meet expectations. The usability wasn’t great, the designs were visually not that appealing – and moreover, they hadn’t followed the brand standards we gave them. After several back-and-forth rounds of updates, they finally said “we’ve done all the updates we’re going to do, you have to accept our designs” – even though they had never actually incorporated all my feedback from the first round. Leadership seemed to think I was overly nitpicky in insisting on good design and brand standards.

The delays in getting the first couple designs right meant that the timeline no longer allowed for the last couple. So the firm just dropped them. They literally announced that they weren’t going to deliver what the contract said they would.

Then they delivered code. It did not incorporate all the functionality that we had asked for. Worse, our IT team reviewed the code and deemed it unacceptable. The code did not conform to their standards, it wouldn’t work right, it didn’t pass testing. It was obvious the firm had written shoddy code and failed to do any testing. Their response? To do some minor fixes to meet the absolute bare minimum of functionality, but still didn’t really conform to IT’s code standards.

Launching to the sound of “whomp whomp”

After months of frustration and delays, we finally launched. With pages that were not very useful, that editors could not populate with all the necessary content. The cool functionality that the firm had recommended in order to sell the project – that functionality wasn’t even there. And of course, half the pages were missing because they never even designed them. The firm washed their hands of it, claiming they had done a fine job.

I considered that project a massive failure. Had it been up to me, I would never have paid the firm – it was obvious they had not even attempted to meet their contractual obligations.

But someone saw this coming

The most frustrating part was that my leadership mostly ignored all the red flags I threw up. They ignored my calls for intervention, my requests that we escalate the problems with the firm’s leadership, my warnings that the finished product would be very subpar. In fact, they seemed to think I was just naysaying for no good reason, and that I should be less hysterical and just “make it work”. It was demoralizing to launch something that I wasn’t happy with, especially knowing that it could have been so much better had leadership listened to my warnings.

So although the Hertz story is thoroughly amusing for those of us in the web and CMS space, it’s also entirely believable. I would bet money that there was a product owner or project manager at Hertz who spent a year and a half losing their mind – and losing sleep – watching this project crash and burn in slow motion. That person was probably against the project in the first place, knowing that such a huge project is a recipe for disaster without extremely careful discovery and governance, which wasn’t likely to get done. They probably raised red flag after red flag, only to be told that Accenture knows what they’re doing so stop complaining so much.

Takeaways

Accenture should have done better, obviously. But Hertz should have done better too. Open eyes go a long way when dealing with a project like this, and my bet is that that didn’t happen.

If you’re considering a large website or app redesign, getting the discovery right and engaging the right partner are crucial to the success of the project. Ideally, no project should be as big as the Hertz project; chunking the work into phases is the way to go. I help companies get a better understanding of the type of project(s) they need to get from current to future state, and plan out a roadmap and governance to prevent exactly this type of situation.

Posted in Customer-Focused Solutions, Websites and tagged , , .