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3. An effective organizer with skills in:
(c) Interpreting laws, regulations, and policies

Y2K Reflective Summary

Lessons Learned

What are the lessons I learned from the Year 2000 Project at Andrews University?

  1. There was a lot of hype
  2. We have enhanced our project management skills
  3. There was a lot of amazing teamwork and cooperation
  4. The humorists had a field day
  5. I learned personal lessons about working with people, and working at Andrews
  6. List of References

1. The Hype

It is certainly true that there was a lot of hype mixed in with a smattering of sane advice during the lead up to the year 2000.  In fact, the title I gave the lead article in the Winter 2000 issue of the ITS Newsletter was "Y2K Hype".  Some of the hype had a religious flavor, with predictions about the end of the world.  Some gave detailed instructions on stocking up on food and water, etc.  Others who were writing about Y2K attempted to inform people how to test their equipment, and to explain the implications of the various kinds of equipment failures that could occur.

These three types of responses to Y2K were identified by Andrea Hoplight-Tapia in her Ph.D. dissertation on "Subcultural responses to Y2K".  Her studies revealed three subcultures that correspond to these three types of Y2K communications:

An email I received in August, 1999 is a good example of the Militia-Patriot Survivalists subculture.  It is a long email, so skip directly to Michael Hyatt's survival tips section.  The email refers to an article by Ted Bridis that was published in the Washington Post on August 20, 1999.

"A Navy report predicts "probable" or "likely" failures in electrical and water systems for many cities because of the year 2000 technology problem--an assessment more dire than any other made by the government. President Clinton's top Y2K adviser, John Koskinen, called the Navy's conclusions overly cautious, saying they assumed that major utilities would fail unless proved otherwise." [2]

However, it was not all hype.  Many computer systems were indeed going to fail, and it is a tribute to all who were involved in Y2K remediation that in almost all cases, the major failures were averted.  But there are those who think the whole thing was a scam, just because remediation efforts were so successful.  In fact, Michael Miller reports in the February 1, 2000 PC Magazine that "Some are even talking about shareholder lawsuits against firms that spent a lot of money on Y2K remediation. I suppose you'd expect that to happen." [3]

2. Project Management

It seemed a natural application of the "work-embedded" style of the Leadership program to write up my work in leading Andrews University to Y2K compliance.  I chose to do this as a Fieldwork unit (EDUC680) with the topic "Institutional Project Planning".  It is interesting to note that in March 21, 2000, the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) issued a Y2K press release that directly applies lessons learned from the Year 2000 project to institutional project management.  This can be seen in the following extract from FFEIC press release:[4]

Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council
For Immediate Release

Press Release
March 21, 2000

Lessons Learned from the Year 2000 Project


The Year 2000 project provided many valuable lessons that can be applied to future project management processes and technology risk management. The purpose of this guidance is to share those lessons with the industry. ...


The FFIEC has determined that the best-prepared institutions possessed most or all of the following characteristics:

  • Senior Management/Director Involvement and Interdisciplinary Teams

  • Comprehensive IT Inventories

  • Improved Vendor Management

  • Effective Testing Strategies

  • Detailed Contingency Planning

  • Strong Internal Controls and Security

  • Open Information Sharing

  • Improved Public Relations

  • Thorough Legal Review

A project team known as the "Y2K Task Force" was called together by the President in mid 1998.  Over the next 18 months, it met over 30 times, meeting twice every month during 1999 except for September (see the minutes).  During the latter part of 1998, it became very clear that software would be needed to compile an exhaustive inventory of all items potentially affected by date computations.  Searches revealed only expensive consulting solutions or inadequate software packages, so we decided to develop our own.  I designed a database and entry forms and reports, and built a pilot in Microsoft Access.  Later, Chris Wilson deployed this on the web.

By the time of our first meeting in 1999, the Task Force was ready to start the job of gathering inventory information and testing status information.  It quickly became evident that no one on the committee had the time to supervise such a time-consuming project, so we requested and received permission to hire Bill Wolfer on a one year contract basis as our "Y2K Czar" (our nickname for him).  Hiring Bill was a decision we had reason to be grateful for over and over again during the remainder of 1999 and into 2000.  For the project to be successful, Bill had to enlist the support of the whole campus.  He made a lot of good friends for ITS by the way in which he went about his work on this project.

Bill was the overall Project Manager for the Andrews Y2K Project, but as the Y2K Task Force Organization Chart shows, each of the members of the Task Force were assigned their own responsibilities.  Our successful transition into 2000 is ample evidence that the assignment of responsibilities was taken seriously, and that we completed the Y2K Project successfully.  We have learned a lot about organizing a large scale project from this experience, as have many organizations around the world.  Timothy Braithwaite has written a book entitled "Y2K Lessons Learned" in which he looks at the project management implications of the Y2K experience.

"Whether, of course, a crisis-management approach such as this is the desirable model for insuring the success of twenty-first-century information technology (IT) initiatives is questionable. A more effective method is the preventive approach this book addresses in detail."[5]

Braithwaite argues that the lessons learned need to be applied to future potential crises, such as security breaches.  One of the 'benefits' of the Y2K experience for Andrews as that along with fixing what could be fixed, we had to make provision for circumstances over which we might have no control, such as no electricity or gas along with a blizzard like we had in the first days of 1999.  A lot of good work was put into developing a contingency plan for Andrews.  Many of the important elements, such as communication protocols and hierarchies, have application to any kind of disaster or emergency.  ITS is completing its Business Continuity Plan, which will connect with the institution's Disaster Recovery Plan.  This plan includes preventative measures for security issues and others, as well as recovery methods and procedures.

3. Teamwork and Cooperation

Quite apart from what the rest of the world was doing about the "Millennium Bug", what I saw on the campus of Andrews University was truly phenomenal in terms of teamwork and cooperation.  Our Y2K Task Force had developed a plan for achieving Y2K compliance, and had identified the tasks that would have to be done to reach that goal.  However, we lacked the human resources to get the job done.

We were extremely fortunate in being able to retain the services of Bill Wolfer to spearhead our Y2K compliance effort.  But the job was much larger than even a single, dedicated full-time person could accomplish.  So representatives were selected from each department on campus, both academic and support departments, and these representatives were trained to be the Y2K Coordinator for their department.  Thanks to Bill's cheerful, winning ways, already busy people willingly agreed to help out with Y2K compliance testing and recording of inventory details in the central database.  The truly amazing thing is that Bill made friends and allies of many of these people at the same time as he was giving them more work to do!

There was good evidence of teamwork and cooperation within ITS as well as across campus.  The Client Services department was responsible for compiling a bulk order of replacement personal computers, and Chris Wilson in the Administrative Systems department extended the functionality of the web-based inventory database to allow departments to easily flag non-compliant systems for replacement or removal.  This greatly assisted in collecting the details for the replacement machines.

Timothy Braithwaite identifies "unprecedented cooperation" as one of the factors that led to the successful aversion of the Y2K computing crisis.

"The Y2K worldwide computing crisis, arising from a largely preventable problem, appears to have been averted. This happened as a result of unprecedented cooperation, executive-level leadership, international mobilization, the exhaustive efforts of innumerable people, and the expenditure, in the United States alone, of over $100 billion." [6]

4. Humor

I have put together a collection of some of the humorous email that was circulating in the Internet during the lead up to the year 2000.  One of these is an animated cartoon of the Millennium Bug.

5. Personal Lessons from the Y2K Compliance Project

The overwhelming feeling that I was left with after the whole business of Y2K at Andrews University was one of profound respect for the people who work here, and for this institution.  It began when the President created the Y2K Task Force in mid-1998.  There was always good administrative support and a recognition of the importance of treating the problem seriously.  The members of the Task Force and the teams each of them led were thorough and professional, and brought a lot of creative energy to the solutions they developed.

I have a very clear recollection of the moment that really "put wheels" on our project.  The Task Force had mapped out a plan of what needed to be done to bring Andrews into compliance, and had concluded that we would somehow need to enlist the support of the departments and share responsibility for testing and making decisions about retiring, repairing, or replacing non-compliant equipment.  But it was very clear to us that liaising with over 100 departments would be a very time-consuming and demanding job.

With the support of the University administration, we hired Bill Wolfer as our Y2K project manager, and miracles began to happen.  Bill had a way of meeting with already busy people and presenting them with a request to do even more work, and the result was willing cooperation, and improved relations with ITS into the bargain.  We asked each department head to name the person in their department who would act as the Departmental Y2K Coordinator.  Bill conducted multiple training sessions, and met personally with each of the coordinators, some on more than one occasion.

Chris Wilson performed another miracle for the project, converting the Microsoft Access tracking system prototype into a web application, with usability enhancements both for the user departments and for project administrators.  This tool was instrumental in helping the University make a consolidated purchase of Dell personal computers at a significant savings in per unit cost, making it possible to retire many PCs and raise the level of performance and reliability across campus.

There are similar stories to tell in Plant Administration, where detailed contingency plans had to be prepared, and put in place.  And while the Banner administrative software we use was certified Y2K compliant by the vendor, SCT, there were many, many lines of code still in use for non-Banner systems.  These all had to be painstakingly checked, and corrected where necessary, then checked again.

It is now a matter of record that Andrews came through the Year 2000 rollover with barely a single mishap, and any that were reported were of a minor nature.  At Bill's suggestion, he and I went around campus in early January, 2000, to personally thank the head and the Y2K Coordinator in each department, with appropriately inscribed pens.  The Y2K Task Force and the measures it put in place enabled the University to achieve Y2K compliance inside the deadline, and to generate good will.  The many hours that were invested were clearly justified, as Ed Wines expressed in his "A Sabbath Thanks" email message.

6. List of References

[1] Hoplight-Tapia, Andrea. (2000) Subcultural responses to Y2K. (EN-0164)
Ph.D. Thesis, The University of New Mexico, 2000. (editorial reviews)
OCLC First Search in Dissertation Abstracts, Search String "Y2K"

[2] Bridis, Ted. Navy Y2K Report Predicts 'Likely' Utility Outages in Several Cities 
Associated Press, reported in Washington Post, August 20, 1999.
(on local server)

[3] Miller, Michael J.,  PC Magazine.  Y2K: Lessons Learned 
Retrieved June 22, 2001

[4] Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council.  Lessons Learned from the Year 2000 Project 
Retrieved June 22, 2001

[5] Braithwaite, Timothy.  Y2K Lessons Learned - A Guide to Better Information Technology Management
From the online book abstract at http://www.wiley-vch.de/books/tis/eng/0-471-37308-7.html 
Retrieved June 22, 2001

[6] Braithwaite, Timothy.  Y2K Lessons Learned - A Guide to Better Information Technology Management
From the online book abstract at http://www.wiley-vch.de/books/tis/eng/0-471-37308-7.html 
Retrieved June 22, 2001

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Created: Sunday, April 22, 2001 10:33 PM 
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 30, 2009 9:17 AM