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:
- The team accepted the project on a fixed bid.
- The requirements started changing early in the process and changed often.
- The team compounded their problems by starting development without confirming the requirements and before they received the designs from a third party.
- 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).
Apparently 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?