When armed guards need to be stationed at the Human Resources office, it may be an indication that something has gone terribly wrong with your project. This is precisely what happened at Arizona State University after they rolled out a new Oracle application to manage their payroll (requires wsj.com subscription, sorry). According to the article, this was the result of ASU’s new approach to managing technology projects. Part of this new approach includes admitting that there will be problems up front, then working through them with some help from the people using the problem software. In other words, release early and often.
In many cases, that isn’t a bad approach, but a line needs to be drawn somewhere. When people don’t get paid, they get upset–rightfully so. In the end, one could label this project a success since they are now cutting paychecks at a lower error rate than they had with the old system. But, over the course of several botched pay cycles, enough animosity has been created towards the IT department that it will be difficult to overcome. Asking one of those who had difficulty paying their bills how successful the project was is unlikely to produce a positive response. This won’t make rolling out the next project any easier.
So, if armed guards may be a necessity, think twice before applying the beta tag to a project that should really be more rigorously tested.