No matter how hard you try, some things are just outside of your control. Or at least partially outside of your control – even in project management. No project manager likes to admit that they aren’t in complete control, but it’s a fact.
Unfortunately, that lack of control can sometimes cause a scenario where we end up with one of those projects that never really seems to end. We are going down the road toward project completion and you think you know when your project will be over. It’s all planned out in the project schedule, right? It’s straightforward…deployment is deployment. It’s not rocket science. Well, actually, sometimes it is. Here’s the scenario – Have you ever had that project customer that goes through acceptance testing and finds some glitches and they won’t sign off on the project? I’m not talking about huge things…they could be small. The problem is, they are vaguely either just inside or just outside the project scope.
The issues that are outstanding really aren’t addressed by the scope of the project – but to the customer they are important. Initially, you do everything you can to meet their needs because at first glance these things don’t seem that big. However, as you work to tackle these issues and your team is struggling, it becomes apparent that resolution is going to take longer than anticipated. Hours turn into days, and days turn into weeks. Seriously, this happens. And it’s painful. And it seems like a two-headed monster. It can turn a customer who has been an ally to this point into an opponent who won’t sign off on deployment or a final invoice and now frustration has set in.
Could this have been avoided? Are there processes that could have been put in place at the beginning of the project to avoid this mess? Maybe, maybe not. What needs to be done on a project-by-project basis in order to hopefully avoid this mess on future projects is this:
Hold a proper kickoff session to set customer expectations. I don’t care if it’s a small project and if it’s just the project manager and the project sponsor on the phone together, hold what is understood as a true project kickoff and set expectations. Go over milestones, discuss how the project will be managed and agree on what the scope of work should be.
Cover formal sign off procedures. Next, discuss formal sign off procedures and what is meant by ‘acceptance’ of a deliverable and – ultimately – the final solution at deployment time. You certainly don’t want to get down to the 11th hour of the project without this process in place.
Ensure you have a post-implementation support structure in place. The final piece of the puzzle is to ensure that you have a proper support structure in place for your customer. If your project customer knows your team will be around for, say, 30 days, to help support any short-term post-deployment issues then they will be faster to sign off on the final solution even if there are some remaining small issues. Likewise, make sure that your support organization has the proper project info to adequately support this customer – it will definitely instill additional confidence in your customer to enable them to give you that final sign off without the worry of abandonment.
Summary / call for input
You can never really ensure that your project won’t end up in that heap of projects that endures issue-ladened extensions or can’t get customer sign off because of lack of “finished” meaning. It happens. But you can take these preventative measures early and revisit these measures later to set new standards going forward if your project appears to be heading in that direction. And trust me, you’ll eventually have one if you’ve never experienced it. Frustrating? Way beyond frustrating.
Readers – have you experienced the never-ending project scenario? What did you do and what measures have you taken since to help keep it from happening again?
About Brad Egeland
Brad Egeland is a Business Solution Designer and IT/PM consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Creative Design, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. Brad is married, a father of 11, and living in sunny Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad’s site at http://www.bradegeland.com/