Be Careful What You Ask For!

Wow....what a week!  I have been honored to work with a phenomenal organization to architect and develop a solution that can revolutionize an industry.  This project blends project management, business process re-engineering, and solution design.  It is a once in a lifetime type of project and the immediate team that I am working with is truly amazing.  We were paid one of the nicest compliments that I have ever received from a client.  This client had been working on the design of a solution and trying to find technology to deliver it for over two years.  He said to me last night, "Where we are now is where we had hoped to be 12-14 months ago.  However, having you guys on board made it worth the wait."  That was just one of the many compliments delivered to us this week by one of the most amazing clients.  I have never worked with a client that embraced and appreciated hard work as much as this one.  We heard from the top of the organization, the senior leadership, the project manager, the business liaison, the IT sponsor and everywhere in between compliments as nice as that one.....as I said in the beginning...wow...what a week!

Early on in my career, I was called in to rescue a  project that was one year past due and one million dollars over budget.  The goal of the project was to reduce the entry of the items by the employees in the field from 5 minutes per item to 3 minutes per item.  We spent another year developing this system that was originally estimated to take 6 months.  I begged to meet with users in the field and gain their input in the design of the system.  Each time, my request was denied.  When we finally debuted the system just slightly two years overdue, the field users hated it.  It now took them up to 15 minutes per item.  We had increased their time instead of decreasing their time.  The managers all thought they knew best and made all of the decisions during requirements and design.  They were wrong.  The end result was we lost the customer, they lost 2.5 years and 3 million dollars, and they had to start all over by throwing the system away and starting from scratch.  Learning from that mistake, we had asked for user involvement in this current system we are developing.  This leads me to the title of this blog post....be careful what you ask for!

This week was the culmination of 16 months of requirements and 5 months of heavy development with 6 separate incremental demonstrations of the functionality.  We had a select group of individuals representing each of the roles in the system come in for the first true unveiling of the design.  While the system overall was a hit, we missed a core element of the system in a big way.  All of the requirements, all of the discussions, and all of the design sessions....and we missed a core element.  At first, it was devastating.  It was scary.  What did it really mean?  Luckily, it wasn't the first rodeo for me or the client.  We were prepared to have something go wrong, but we were all honestly surprised how far we missed the core element.  By the end of the session, we had a new design and a new approach hammered out and on the way to the core decision makers for their approval.

The moral of the story is you have to get to the users.  You have to get the true input of the people that are the ones that are going to use the system.  It does not matter how much expertise you have in the room, how good the developers are, or how long you spent doing requirements.  If you do not have the core users giving you input on how the systems should function, your chances of success are reduced exponentially.  At the same time, you must be careful what you ask for.  When you do solicit feedback, make sure it is early enough in the process that you can make the appropriate adjustments.  If we had this session 3-4 weeks later, I think it would have been detrimental to the project.

So the project management tip for this week, make sure you are getting users input.  Make sure that you do it early enough in the project where the feedback can be applied to the project without many changes.  Don't be afraid to ask....just be careful!

Until next time!

Rick