Have you ever served as the project manager for that 'test' project for your organization? And by test project I don't mean a mocked up test project. No, I mean a real project that enters some key, uncharted territory that your organization would like to deliver in but has no experience with. They've never served a project client in this particular industry and they want to 'see' if their software will work well in this genre and they're using this project - and you - to establish some sort of baseline. Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever had this 'privilege'? Well...I have. Sounded interesting at first. Interesting...yes, that's how I'll describe it.
Concern from the start
First, let me describe the software solution at a high level. It's sort if a proprietary ERP software that works great, but must be customized and configured for each client according to their needs and business processes. Calculations, screens, reports, data integration – everything must be done specifically for the individual client and the project requirements.
Right from the start the project called for a short implementation period of 90 days. Almost unheard of. The customer wanted it implemented almost ‘as-is’ right out of the box. Absolutely unheard of. I was given two business analysts and my PMO Director made the mistake of announcing to the client that we had two on the project because one was junior learning from the other one. Mistake – the client never trusted any output from the junior BA from that point on. And the client announced in a major press release the drop-dead implementation date for this ‘out-of-the-box’ short-window software implementation project in an industry we had never ventured into.
Red lights were flashing everywhere…mostly in my head though.
Here’s what I learned. My gut is trustable. I figured the 90-day implementation target was really more like the halfway point. I was close…90 days turned into about 240 days. I figured the budget was at least 10% off. It was 21% off. I realize that hindsight is 20-20 and I was fairly new to this company and this software at the time and did not speak up when I became very concerned. Sitting down with some good mind mapping software to map out the entire process from the beginning would have been a good place to start. That and convincing the customer that they really didn’t want an out-of-the-box implementation (which the didn’t…hence the extra five months and $32,000 to implementation). But at some point we had gone too far and kept pushing forward.
This project wasn’t a complete disaster. We rolled out the solution to the customer, got paid, and put a notch in our belt by implementing the solution in a new industry…which opened the door to other clients in the same industry. But it was painful, it was a learning process, and it was not deemed a very successful project or implementation at the time. The customer – who was pretty frustrated by the time deployment came around – ended up performing a decent amount of post-implementation configuration to get the final solution to do exactly what they wanted…and to stop the financial bleed.
The moral of the story – if you feel you aren’t ready, or the project isn’t ready, or there is some misunderstanding or uneven expectations or miscommunication…there probably is. Speak up – especially when you’re entering uncharted territory. It never hurts to add some extra planning time and make sure that everyone is on the same page from the beginning.
Brad Egeland is an IT veteran of 27 years having worked as an application developer, manager, project & program manager, consultant and business strategist and is the author of BradEgeland.com