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A Tech Postcard from Amsterdam: On Bicycles and Blown Budgets

Rijksmuseum A.jpg


I recently traveled to Amsterdam for vacation and was eager to walk the canals, take in the architecture and visit the many museums.   In particular, I was really looking forward to seeing the newly reopened Rijksmuseum, which according to its website displays over 8,000 artistic and historical objects that tell the story of 800 years of Dutch history.


Here’s a story that may sound familiar to any CIO who’s faced a big-ticket datacenter transformation that didn’t turn out too well. The Rijksmuseum  closed in 2003 for what was supposed to be five years of renovations at a budgeted cost of 272 million euros.  However, the renovation took 10 years and cost 375 million euros.   How did the renovations take twice as long and cost over 100 million euros more than expected?


Rijksmuseum B.jpg(Picture of the key commemorating the grand opening of the museum)


The most common report was that a dispute with the building contractor over cost led to the delays.  Additional reports noted poor planning, the bankruptcy of contractors, the loss of a director, and the discovery of asbestos. But the most interesting report, in my opinion, cited the majority of delays being due to … Amsterdam’s cycling lobby.


According to the Guardian, “what defeated the architects and the museum directorship was, in the end, a plan to block a cycle path that runs right through the museum … The Fietsersbond (Dutch Cyclists' Union) objected to the loss of the path – and won.” The Fietsersbond went to court to preserve this shortest passage from the Old City center to the South. Thus, building design was altered to allow for a passage that is today open for both bicycle users and pedestrians.


Rijksmuseum C.jpg


This case study is a great example of why it is important to get stakeholder approval when mapping out, proposing, and implementing large projects, because even the best laid plans can be derailed without it.  Granted, there are always going to be unforeseeable issues with the building, technology, and contractors in any project. However, it is surprising that the cycle path was left out of the design, considering Amsterdam has such a strong bicycling culture.


When working on IT projects I often emphasize the importance of knowing your audience and addressing the shareholders’ concerns. If you don’t put some serious thought into this, you run the risk of ignoring a key group – just as the leaders of the Rijksmuseum project did.


First, identify the appropriate stakeholders (all of them) and get their input.  Do this by listening to the project sponsor and the team directly impacted by your project and see if you can find out who else they know that will be impacted. A colleague of mine takes the approach of acting like a therapist; he asks a lot of questions and makes sure to listen more than he speaks.  By having open dialogue one can find out a lot about the stakeholders and the current environment.    


Second, keep the “visible positive” people in the forefront of your efforts and address the concerns of the “invisible negatives.”   It is not only important to identify those individuals with strong opinions but also to find the individuals that have the most influence on decision makers. Getting the right people on board with a strategy can greatly expedite the approval of a project.


Third, review the business case with stakeholders and get their buy-in early and often.  The more upfront and open you are with the group the more you will build cohesion and trust.  The earlier you review the strategy the more opportunities you have to redirect based on the stakeholders input.  In the end, this will help demonstrate that you have their support which will boost the credibility of the analysis. 


Follow these tips, and you’ll minimize the chances of getting blindsided by objections and unforeseen requests as the project unfolds. And unlike the Rijksmuseum project, you’ll be able to avoid blown budgets and forever-expanding schedules.


Rijksmuseum D.jpg


Read about HP Consulting Services and how we can help you ensure that your IT projects go smoothly.

About the Author


Great analogy on how a data center transformation can go very wrong.

Data center transformation seems to be a rather complex process unless of course some helpful consultancy can be taken. 10 years can be a long time.

Great article and insight that many businesses could benefit from.  

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