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From the Sponsor’s Desk; The Never Ending Project

In my last post, I reviewed a challenged undertaking due, in part, to flawed incentive compensation. Here’s another example of a project that could have used a great PM. Unfortunately, it grew from a $7 million initiative to more than $30 million with no end in sight. That’s why I call this post The Never Ending Project!

The Situation

This organization provides credit life insurance coverage for financial services companies and their customers. Antiquated business processes and technology restricted their ability to respond to clients’ demands for better products, new services and better integration of the sales and administrative processes to reduce costs and improve responsiveness.

The Goal

To upgrade technology and redesign business processes to enable improved product and service offerings and better integration with their clients’ operations. The plan was to leave the interfaces to existing client services intact to reduce costs and risk. Expected cost was $7 million.

The Project

The organization had a small IT organization and experience with small projects. They were able to acquire an experienced project manager from the parent company and selected third party software to administer the life insurance contracts. A business executive was the project’s sponsor.

The Results

The project floundered on a variety of fronts:

  • They had great difficulty defining project requirements.
  • They had limited ability to test the delivered solution to ensure it met business and client needs.
  • The original project manager was pulled by the parent company, which also pulled the replacement and supplied a third project manager.
  • The vendor reported that it was unable to deliver the requested functionality through the existing client interfaces, significantly expanding the scope of the undertaking.
  • The project returned to the board three times to approve incremental funding. The estimated cost escalated to $30 million, over four times the original estimate, with less functionality and a delayed delivery.
  • The sponsor was adversarial, dictatorial and argumentative with anyone who questioned the effectiveness of the project.

How a Great PM would have Helped

There’s nothing worse for a PM than an out of control sponsor. In this case, a great PM could have leveraged Project Pre-Check’s building blocks (see my May 12, 2010 post) to address and remedy the obvious warning signs early in the project’s life cycle:

  • A strong, fully resourced stakeholder group including the vendor, target stakeholders from other affected organizations (possibly including client representatives) and a champion or two could have offered balance to the sponsor’s belligerence and provided effective early oversight to manage the scope.
  • There are a number of Project Pre-Check decision areas that, had they been addressed, could have resulted in an entirely different outcome:
    • Worth is a decision area that is seldom tackled in project operations yet can provide huge value. Knowing what a change is worth to the organization, and going through the effort to determine that figure, influences the alternatives that are considered, the approaches taken and the oversight applied on an ongoing basis. In this case, was the value to be delivered worth $30 million? Maybe not. Should the plug have been pulled early on? Perhaps.
    • The decision areas dealing with an organization’s capability for determining and managing requirements are critical for project success. If these had been considered and addressed by the stakeholders early in the project’s life, the outcomes would have been much more palatable.
    • The decision areas that address stakeholder capability, planning and managing risks, phasing and staging delivery, among others, could all have helped guide the project to a more successful conclusion.

Projects with revolving PMs are never easy, especially if you’re the last in line. If you find yourself in this situation, put the above points on your checklist of things to do so you too can be a great PM, and your sponsor’s best friend.

Next, we’ll look at a project that was in deep trouble when a contract PM took over and by speaking truth to power, was able to deliver successfully. In the interim, if you have a project experience, either good or bad, that you’d like to have examined through the Project Pre-Check lens, send me the details and we’ll have a go.

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Drew Davison

Drew Davison is the owner and principal consultant at Davison Consulting and a former system development executive. He is the developer of Project Pre-Check, an innovative framework for launching projects and guiding successful project delivery, the author of Project Pre-Check - The Stakeholder Practice for Successful Business and Technology Change and Project Pre-Check FastPath - The Project Manager’s Guide to Stakeholder Management. He works with organizations that are undergoing major business and technology change to implement the empowered stakeholder groups critical to project success. Drew can be reached at [email protected].

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