It’s happened to all of us who have consulted. We start a project with appropriate planning, and then something happens and it seems that nothing is working anymore. Budgets and timelines have gone out the window, the client is upset, and we are in recovery mode. Without pointing fingers, here are some of the reasons that projects go astray.
- The scope is not well-defined. Especially with what are perceived as smaller projects, it is easy just to say, “Create these reports,” or, “Create an interface from this system into that one. “The specific requirements are not written out or reviewed with the user. The user thinks he or she is getting something that looks like A, and the consultant is sure that the requirement is for B. The consultant thinks the requirement is simple, and the user and the consultant don’t communicate very well.
- The scope expands and the change control process has not been considered carefully.
- We didn’t create, monitor, update, or follow the project plan. Project plans are an integral part of a successful project. The more detail in the plan, the better the estimate is. Creating good project plans is a real skill, but there is a lot of art involved too. For those of us experienced in creating project plans, there are red flags in our heads that show up when something is not as we expected from our experience on other projects. These early warning signs are good indicators that it is time to review and update the project plan.
- The scope is well documented, we have followed a strict change control process, and we have a plan, but it is a project that we have not done before, so we grossly underestimated the level of effort and resources required.
Take the case of the project that was estimated at $100,000. The consultant prepared the estimate, submitted it to the client, and the client accepted the proposal. A couple of months into the project, the consultant realized that the project was much more complex than anticipated and would cost 5 to 10 times as much as estimated. Three things tend to happen in that case. The first is that he continues the project, and when the $100K has been spent, nothing works. The client is unhappy but figures that by throwing a little more money to the consultant, everything will be fixed, so the project drags on. The client just keeps throwing good money after the bad. The second thing that happens is that the consultant points a lot of fingers and says that the users didn’t really communicate the requirements clearly or that something has changed. He then fills out a change control form for a huge amount of additional money. Sometimes the client buys into this, but often the entire project is abandoned. In a third scenario, the client decides to engage a different consulting firm. However, when the new consulting firm comes in, the client’s expectation is that they have already spent $100K on the project, so the remaining work is minimal and they don’t want to go back and confess that the first consultant made a mistake. After all, it was the client who signed off on the initial consultant’s proposal in the first place, so maybe it is just as much the client’s fault as it is the consultant’s.
How do you avoid this mess? The secret to a successful project is great documentation.
Documenting the requirements, documenting all assumptions, documenting the discussion items and issues around the requirements, documenting deviations from the scope or the project plan, documenting the basis for each line of the estimate, and documenting each decision that was made and the impact of that decision, along with documenting all the procedures, processes and all aspects of the build or implementation allows you and the client to closely monitor progress and provides early warnings when something is not as expected. With proper documentation it is easy to turn a project around before it is in trouble.