We have seen many projects that were initiated without a well defined (or well communicated) set of objectives and requirements. There are a lot of reasons for this, but very few good reasons. The most prevalent reason is that the client and/or the person(s) who perform the actual project work jump into the project without taking the time to develop a scope statement or set of requirements.
Too often a client company will award a contract or order without accurately scoping what it wants or needs, and a service provider will accept the contract without clearly scoping what it expects to provide. The result is that both sides have a cloudy view of what is to be done, and an even cloudier view of what it will take to conclude and close the project on a fair basis for both sides. While both sides may start with the best of intentions, it is often the case that one or both sides ultimately don’t get what they need from the project. Either the client doesn’t get the product or deliverable that she wants, or the vendor doesn’t get paid what he believes he has earned. Time passes, deadlines may be missed, systems are delivered without desired features or benefits, progress payments are not made, costs escalate, confusion and frustration occurs. And as things get more confusing or frustrating, one or both sides dig in their heels believing that they are getting the short end of the stick.
Avoiding or resolving situations like this requires an ability to clarify requirements in an unambiguous manner, and the capability to deal with a broad range of personality types to strike a balance. If the problematic project doesn’t have a legitimate project manager, then some project management expertise may be required. If the project does have a project manager, then the situation may warrant an outside (unbiased) perspective to address the politics and bruised feelings.
Recently we were given the opportunity to assist in a small web development project where the project lacked a clear set of requirements. The project had been running for several months, and both sides (the client and the developer) were getting frustrated. The project was in danger of not completing on the client’s timeline because the project scope and priorities were not clearly established. The web developer was getting frustrated because the client didn’t clearly articulate what it wanted and needed, causing a lot of wasted development time. The client was getting concerned about the approaching launch deadline which appeared to be in danger because things were taking too long to complete.
Over the course of (3) meetings we were able to extract and articulate a set of project goals and to re-state the project scope and deliverables where both sides had a clearer view of what remained and how to prioritize and sequence the remaining work. We went from there to deliver a series of services to help the web developer complete and test the highest priority software elements in a timely manner and the service launched on schedule.
Developing solid scope statements and project requirements requires a fair amount of skill. Most people do not do it well. They lack the project experience, statistical insights, and/or ability to articulate requirements in a measurable way as required for effective scope management. It is far easier for someone to say “I’ll know it when I see it” than it is for those same people to know how to create it in the first place. Developing a clear set of requirements, deliverables, and expected results Is key to achieving the best outcomes from projects. Yet too many clients, vendors (and executives) don’t take the time or engage the best people to assure that scope is well defined and well understood.
If you find yourself in a situation where you need to improve the clarity of your project(s), please call us.