Case Summary information
Length: 10 pages, about 2,700 words.
Currency: The events described in the case occurred during the summer of 2002, however, the case issues are enduring.
Company: Medium size technology services provider, based in Canada, international focus.
Level: Appropriate for upper-level undergraduate and graduate (MBA) students.
Difficulty: analytical: 1/3; conceptual: 2/3; presentation: 2/3 (Harvard/Ivey scale)
Main focus: Project Management, personnel management, software engineering/development.
Possible courses: Organizational focus: Project Management, Organizational Behavior, Management Information Systems. Technical focus: Systems Analysis and Design, Software Engineering Management.
The case describes the advantages and disadvantages of working with an exceptionally gifted software developer. On the positive side the developer is technically superb, with the ability to write elegant code, quickly and efficiently. On the negative side the developer is unpredictable (works late at night, doesn’t arrive at work until the following afternoon), and tires quickly of non-programming duties such as mentoring junior developers, working with other team members, writing documentation, dealing with clients, and so on. These conflicting factors come to a head when a project for an important European client develops problems that require the developer’s immediate attention.
The Case can be used with two distinct audiences. The first is a regular stream business student audience (MBA or upper-level undergraduate). The focus for this group is on principles of effective project management. In particular, how to manage the challenges of supervising talented, but difficult employees. The case opens up a window into the world of software development for students with a general management or organizational behaviour focus.
Students with a technical focus represent the second audience for the case. For these students, the case introduces the pressures and challenges that managers face when managing large, complex projects. Engineers and computer scientists will relate to the descriptions of software development incorporated into the case. They may be less aware, however, of the issues that managers face in dealing with unpredictable employees, customers, timelines, budgets, etc..
I have used the case with both student audiences and the effect is remarkable. Both sets of students are surprised by the motivations and challenges of the other. The case work particularly well in the first year of an MBA program where classes often include a mix of technical and non-technical students. This teaching note will make a distinction, where appropriate, between both audiences.
Randolph (the case protagonist) must decide how to proceed with a project that may go off the rails without the guidance of the project’s chief architect. While exceptionally gifted, the chief architect is difficult to work with and unpredictable. Randolph must decide whether to keep the architect on the project or replace him with one or more alternates. If Randolph decides to keep him on the project, he must find a way to make the architect’s continued participation more dependable.
There are two main underlying basic issues in the case. The first is how to effectively manage gifted, yet disruptive employees, particularly Information Systems (IS) professionals. The case describes the characteristics and motivations of these individuals. Some of these observations may surprise non-technical students, such as the exponential difference in productivity between average and exceptional developers and the fact that programmers typically think of themselves as artists.
The second basic issue in the case is the complexity of the software development process, particularly for large development projects - something that students may not be…