Saturday, 29 March 2014

Project Control

Working on a project recently, I found myself in one of those situations which a consultant hates.

The client had very clear time requirements. For various reasons the project had to be completed by a certain date.

But, right from the word go, the client's own managers seemed to forget that.


We started off very effectively. The project leader drew up a chart of actions with dates by when they needed to be done, and everyone agreed with what was proposed. We knew the project plan had a little bit of leeway, but we didn't want to use that up too soon.


Within a week we discovered that the data that had been promised wasn't available. Even when it did arrive it wasn't in the correct format. Extra resources brought in then could have minimised the effect on the project, but (despite warnings) no action was taken, presumably because someone knew there was some leeway, or believed we could all just work a bit harder later on.

But then something else went wrong, and the project slipped to the point where meeting the deadline began to look challenging. I held meetings with key project staff who agreed things were slipping, but client management had other priorities at that time and couldn't even meet up with us. Looking back I see now that no-one wanted to be the "bearer of bad news ", especially as it was still possible we would catch up.


Then it became clear that a relatively simple piece of work in one area was in fact more complex than anyone had realised.

So now we were in deep trouble!

How could we get the project back on schedule? 

Throw money at it? Accept the deadline was going to be missed?


It was agreed we would not do what had been agreed, and that we would "go live" with a system performing only 80% of what had been proposed, with the rest coming on-line in the following months.

As a consultant I hate this. The client is not happy. The developers are not happy. The users will not be happy. 

And the project leader feels control slipping away.

- o O o -

All projects have problems, and it is not possible to know in advance which ones will have most impact on the success or failure of the project. However there are a few guidelines which, if followed, will minimise risks.

To meet your project deadline:
  1. Be clear about what is to be delivered and the intended timescale. When in doubt agree to deliver less, or go for a phased implementation.
  2. Ensure everyone involved understands the time and budget constraints, and discuss in advance what the impact will be if the deadline is missed, and how any slippage will be handled.
  3. Prepare a detailed plan and make sure all involved have agreed that it is workable.
  4. Have an understanding of what resources are required for the project.
  5. Monitor progress carefully. When any slippage occurs, deal with it immediately. Discuss how it is to be addressed and the project brought back on schedule. Warn those who might be affected.**

** This last point is one I have seen ignored on many projects. When things go wrong, no-one wants to be the one who tells senior people the bad news. After all, they are very busy and believe you are coping. Everyone hopes the project can be brought back on to schedule. But if you don't start talking to them early enough, they can't help with resource or budget allocation when it is appropriate to do so. Asking later on for money or a time extension may not be appropriate.


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