Meet "The Fixer" for Troubled IT Projects: Jason Coyne

Consultant Jason Coyne shows up at your IT project for one reason: To cure it or kill it. In this Q&A with, Coyne explains why he's one part doctor, one part marriage counselor, and how he helps IT teams at odds with a vendor or integrator recover from near disaster.

Jason Coyne describes his unusual job in many ways: Marriage counselor. The Equalizer. Relationship guru. Project conscience. Resolution manager. The Fixer.

To those groups toiling away on your garden-variety technology implementation—the vendor, the customer, the integrator—Coyne's arrival on-site usually means one thing: A big tech project is in trouble. And Coyne's job as an objective third party is to either "kill or cure" those projects that have gone awry. (Coyne is sort of like a U.K. version of Winston Wolf, Harvey Keitel's industrious character from Pulp Fiction: "I'm Winston Wolf. I solve problems.")

Jason Coyne
"Project Fixer" Jason Coyne

Coyne, who's managing partner at the Evolution Project Consulting firm, claims to have worked on more than 500 different projects in the U.K. and abroad since the 1990s. "Not all disputes," Coyne adds, "but most of them have been." (Some companies have hired to come in at the beginning of a large project to prevent a disaster.)

Read the Enterprise Software Unplugged Blog and's IT Project Management Blog Senior Editor spoke with Coyne about the ill-fated patterns and emotional traps that most tech implementation teams fall prey to, how he "sells" himself to his customers, and why companies often forget about a project's original goals during implementations. How do you describe your job to someone at, say, a cocktail party?

Jason Coyne: I describe it as "marriage guidance for technology agreements." So just as different, diverse people come to together in a marriage, different and diverse organizations come together to form a project. And when there's fallout, they need somebody independent to help mediate and resolve the disputes.

There's no real rocket science in what I do. I just help people understand why they're in this relationship, this agreement. Usually, they just lose sight of what their goals are; in a marriage, people can lose site of that: What they're in the relationship for. I just really bring that back to the forefront of the attention, and they start focusing on the common goals. Who typically hires you?

Coyne: Generally it's the purchasing party I'm instructed by; sometimes the technology vendor or systems integrator. But [my services can be hired] for anything to do with technology and a commercial dispute, if there's a contract and a legal agreement in place. How did you get into this?

Coyne: I originally was an out-and-out techie. I started as a fourth-generation language programmer. I created business control software, accounting and manufacturing software back in the late 1980s. I didn't really enjoy programming, but I saw how things got created. And I actually implemented a number of these systems that I helped develop.

In the early '90s, one of the systems that I'd helped build ended up getting into dispute. One of the companies found me and [asked me] to give evidence about the way the software was put together in first place, and I ended up giving evidence in a trial of the software that I helped write.

Since then, people have just come to me for my opinion on various types of agreements that have to do with technology, over 500 different projects since the 1990s. 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. 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 an advisor 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. When I get wheeled in front of these global systems-integration players 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."

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