Why project management matters…

Last weekend I and fellow CMS Mythbuster John Eckman braved a snowstorm to attend the 2012 Western Massachusetts Drupal Camp. John gave a talk on a recent higher-ed project using Drupal and Kaltura. The day was filled with informative sessions on a number of different topics including a fantastic hour on the basics of Linux and Drush provided by a local tech guy named Rick Umali.

My favorite talk was given by a collaborative of developers whose session title seemed to indicate a totally successful project outcome. Although the site they presented was absolutely stunning there were many hints the project did not unfold under ideal conditions. Hanging in the spaces between the things they did share, some facts became clearly evident which were later confirmed during the Q&A:

  1. The team accepted the project on a fixed bid.
  2. The requirements started changing early in the process and changed often.
  3. The team compounded their problems by starting development without confirming the requirements and before they received the designs from a third party.
  4. Naturally, the client was unwilling to accept anything less than exactly what they expected (a moving target) and was unwilling to pay anything more than they agreed to in the original SOW (a fixed amount).

Piggy BankApparently I wasn’t the only person in the amphitheater who recognized the hungry little pig they tried to makeover with the title of their talk. While the audience pelted the developers with a barrage of scope related questions I thought to myself: Had this session could have been entitled “why project management matters” the audience might have been more charitable. In terms of satisfying their client’s requirements the team eventually hit a very attractive home run. In terms of profitability, client fatigue, resourcing, and timeline, however, the team eventually conceded it was a failure (after a series of tough questions).

It was also easy to feel sympathy for the team. First of all, anyone who has been in this business long enough has been there. It’s also not hard to understand why they would interpret the outcome as a lesson on how to build a truly remarkable website on a short timeline with budget constraints. After all, consistently delivering value to the customer is absolutely an important aspiration for any agency designing and building CMS driven websites.

Alas, with experience comes the realization our role as design and build agencies must be sustainable for the long term. In this case the development team admittedly had to work many late nights and weekends. When the site was finally delivered, had they run an hours analysis, they may have learned their time would have been more profitably spent working at a McDonald’s in Kuala Lumpur than on this project. Not a recipe for success.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons why project management matters besides budget. Frankly, in over a decade I’ve yet to have a single project without a schedule. I’ve also yet to come across a project for which it wasn’t critically important to communicate often, clearly understand the scope of what my team was building, or to have an individual on the team tightly focused on the quality of the product.

Strong project management discipline says a lot about the maturity of an agency. Scope, schedule, budget, and communication will factor into the success or failure of a project with or without an experienced project manager. Failure to proactively address these factors always places an unfair burden on those members of the team who should be focused on strategy, user experience, design, development, and engineering.

How has project management affected the outcome of projects you’ve been part of?

About the Author
Jake DiMare

Jake has spent the last 15 years helping organizations plan, design, develop, and implement effective online experiences with a strong focus on large scale web content management systems and integrated online marketing suites. Jake wrote for the CMS Myth during his time working at Connective DX (formerly ISITE Design). Google Plus Profile

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5 responses… read them below or add one.

  1. PM Hut says:

    Hi Jake,

    The title of your post is identical to one of the posts we have published 5 years ago on PM Hut (you can find it here).

    By the way, when you read the article, you will see how the perception on project management has changed over the past few years (in a good way).

  2. Thank you for writing this article! Project management is such an under-rated piece of the agency workflow process, and we could not agree with you more that it is one of the most vital! We have seen more instances than we care to think about where projects have gone over budget, out of scope and wildly off schedule because no one was project managing them. Agencies need to recognize the benefit of having someone raise the red flag when a project is out of scope or in jeopardy of going over budget, and understand that they’ll be rewarded not just in better margins but in happier employees and better work!

  3. Aren Cambre says:

    This sounds more like a case study in pitfalls of trying to be capital-A Agile while clinging to a basically waterfall overall model.

    If you’re gonna go agile, do it right.

  4. Smrithi Sandeep says:

    If it is planned, it wont go Haywire..

    Effective Project management ensures, No scope creep, Change tracking, escalation procedures and above all adherenec to set/ standard/ Corporate QA.

    You have Registers / Logs to fall back on for anything at any point of time. You can project the sucess of the completed project for future business…

  5. Jake DiMare Jake DiMare says:

    Great feedback! Thanks everyone.

    Aren, I’d like to start a discussion about the differences between waterfall and agile with a focus on when one is more appropriate than the other based on project requirements vs. agency predilection.

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