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Dollars & Sense:
Project in the Soup?

  Column published in DMReview.com
December 1, 2004
  By Susan Osterfelt

You think everything is fine with the project you are working on and then something derails it! It happens all the time, yet it always seems to catch us by surprise. It's hard enough just trying to execute on a project, much less worry about what could derail it. However, it seems worthwhile to contemplate what could go wrong and perhaps anticipate potential remediation attempts. Here are my top 10 ways your project could get derailed, in true David Letterman style.

10. Requirements keep changing. This is one of my personal favorites. Requirements are set at the beginning of the project; everyone knows what needs to be delivered. Then users say, "Couldn't we just add this functionality that we really need? It would make the whole system so much more powerful!" Yes, and the project manager gets lessons in how to balance requests for changing requirements with the need to actually complete the project.

9. The solution requires 10x more computing resources than anticipated. Oops! You had planned for a certain level of resource consumption, but the complexity of the solution along with the need for storage of a significantly larger amount of data than you originally anticipated is causing your IT department to have a heart attack. Or, those changing requirements (see number 10) may cause the misstep. Either way, it's not a good situation.

8. Project deadlines are missed. The project manager, eager to impress the business executive, overpromises - setting unrealistic deadlines, which are then missed, causing the project to be behind schedule. Or, deadlines are missed because changing requirements (again, see number 10) cause rework.

7. Different people show up at every project meeting. Okay, people delegate project participation to others; however, when every project meeting involves new people who need to be brought up to speed regarding the project's deliverables, you know you're on a downward spiral.

6. Your company acquires or merges with another company, thus changing priorities. Suddenly, the integration of your two companies takes the highest priority. Yes, your project is still important, but it has to take a back seat to the integration. "Just sit tight," they tell you. "We'll reallocate resources to your project in no time."

5. Scope creep sets in. We all know this one, right? This is where the project was set to address deliverables within one scope of the organization; however, because the organization has changed, can't we just deal with this change and address these other areas as well? (Also see number 10, changing requirements. Is there a theme here?)

4. Budget pressures cause project funding to be cut. It's a great project. Everyone wants it to proceed, and deadlines are being met. The project manager has even managed to control those pesky changing requirements. However, the organization's overall budget gets cut, and the project ends up on the cutting room floor.

3. Communication failure causes meltdown. I'm always reminded of a quote from the movie Cool Hand Luke, "What we have here is a failure to communicate." (I realize this ages me, as the movie came out in 1967 and I saw it in the theater.) Businesspeople aren't talking to developers. Developers are not talking to each other. When the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing, the entire project can be derailed.

2. The project can no longer provide the strategic advantage/value-add that was envisioned. More often than not, this is because the market has changed during the project's 365-day "gestation" period. Sometimes it is difficult to get the solution to "market" in a timely enough manner to make a difference.

1. The project sponsor gets RIF'd (reduction in force). Don't you just hate it when your sponsor gets the axe? I do! You need to start over in terms of getting buy-in and sponsorship from the business, not to mention worry about what will happen to this person with whom you have built rapport and who truly understands both the business pain and the need for the solution. It doesn't mean immediate death to your project, but you'd better be able to roll with the punches and prove business value-add immediately to a new sponsor.

Thinking about the top 10 ways your project could get derailed makes me almost incredulous that some projects actually get done, on time, on budget and on target. Let's hope you are involved with one of them!


For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
Business Intelligence (BI).

Susan Osterfelt is senior vice president at Bank of America, in Charlotte, North Carolina. She can be reached at susan.osterfelt@bankofamerica.com.

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