Babysitting telcos

One cannot underestimate the value of project management when working with telcos on performing any type of circuit work. “Project management” is really too complex a term, though – it is more like babysitting.

I have led major telecom projects with four large companies in the southeast in the past 15 years, from installing point-to-points, frame, MPLS, fiber rings, Metro Ethernet and just general circuit maintenance. And there is at least one common thread: I could not count on the telcos to keep their commitments. They take down your circuits the week before the established date, they start testing before 5:00p, you schedule an outage with your customers but they forget, they cancel and never tell you … it’s always something.

As much as these antics make the IT manager want to criticize, condone, and – quite frankly – curse at the telco PMs, engineers, dispatchers and technicians, it is no single person’s fault. Most of these telcos are huge behemoths with very poor internal communications and coordination. In most cases, once I have held my tongue and investigated these goofs, many of the individuals involved were in fact doing their best.

So the advice to the IT manager working a telecom project is to over-communicate, constantly solicit commitments, and relentlessly remind … aka babysit. Schedule multiple pre-cut meetings and demand involvement from all the vendor’s players, e.g. the account manager, project manager, engineer, coordinator, tech, tech supervisor, etc.. Take the initiative on creating work plans with very clear start/stop and communication plans. Establish a voice meeting bridge during the cut and demand that all check in and report.

It is indeed a shame that we must go to these lengths to manage our vendors, but it is much easier than explaining an unplanned outage to your customers. We can blame the big telecom vendors, but in the end, the customers expect IT managers to handle vendor management, to anticipate, compensate, and plan around the inadequacies of our service providers. We most likely have little choice on which telco we have to work with, so we must adapt.