Well, the same goes for project management. Especially in technical project management. Asking for help and the expertise of someone outside of your organization is a way of life in project management. That's why our teams, stakeholders, and other resources in the organization are valuable along with expert resources outside of our organization. Asking questions of all these groups of individuals and getting answers and information from them leads to making the best possible decisions and next steps for our customers and projects. This is especially true of the business analysts on projects. Why? Let's examine these ideas and scenarios.
Seeking Technical Direction
In today’s complicated technology environments, it’s impossible to have a deep understanding of all things technical. The need for a Technical Expert for this happens on about every project. Why? Although the Business Analyst or Project Manager is strong in building relationships and eliciting requirements, they don’t have the in depth technical knowledge of a technical lead or application owner. Having the Business Analyst or Project Manager also perform the role of a Technical Lead is hopefully rare. Deep system and application knowledge can pull a Business Analyst or Project Manager away from building strong business relationships and eliciting fully complete business requirements. Going to more technical team members or even outside the organization for more savvy technical resources is a great idea when additional technical information is needed, answers are required fast and important business decisions are required.
Clarifying and Defining Project Requirements
There are going to be times when the project requirements need further defining. Perhaps even after they have been documented and work on the design or the development has started. It's a natural occurrence and happens all the time – sometimes resulting in change orders. But it can't be left to guess work – requirements must be clarified with the customer and possibly an outside expert technical resource when necessary. Failing to do so can result in costly re-work or an end solution that isn't the right solution for the customer.
The Theory of Progressive Elaboration come into play here. At the beginning of the project you know very little about the details when formulating the project scope or design. As you progress or learn more about the details of the vision, goals, objectives and perhaps even the proposed solution your deeper understanding of the requirements. This typically results in scope or solution changes that are created by obtaining this deeper knowledge. Deeper knowledge also triggers level setting of project outcomes and expectations with project teams, stakeholders and project sponsors.
Getting Prices and Estimates for Change Orders
Another area where “knowing a guy” might be beneficial or even required is in the case of creating estimates and preparing change orders. We want our estimates to be accurate and we can't always do that with the available team members, project manager or even others in the organization. An estimate may involve incorporating some yet to be used technology or service so knowing someone on the outside that possess that certain expertise could be a great benefit for getting an answer quickly and a change order proposal turned around to the project client in an impressive, accurate and swift manner. This all serves to help guarantee a satisfactory customer experience and a confident sign off on any needed change order work.
This is where Analogous estimating or estimating based on past experiences comes into play. Experts or other resources wither inside or outside the organization that have performed similar projects, will be able to provide a list of tasks or activities with durations. Duration of the task then drives the estimates. Care should be used with Analogous estimating techniques to ensure that tasks and durations would remain the same for the specific project. Validation of assumptions being made by external experts is critical to avoiding overly inflated estimates.
The Theory of Progressive Elaboration applies here. The estimates provided by outside experts are as good as their level of understanding for the project. The deeper the understanding of the project, the more accurate the Analogous estimate.
Experts at Requirements Meetings and Technical Discussions
Sometimes you need more than a phone call for some tough discussions. That's when you might want to reach out to a “guy” or consultant who can come in, sit in on the business process discussions with the project client, sponsor or stakeholders to understand the “as is” and “to be” environment. Then help make some guidance decisions with those in the meeting. This consultant can be brought in as a subject matter expert (SME) to help guide the team to deeper understanding of the topic at hand or guide them down different path if the paths to create clarity. The result can be a solution that better fits the project and the real needs of the project customer and their organization.
It's ok to reach out like this – it happens all the time. One thing that the Business Analyst and Project Manager will need to determine is if the solution is more technical or different than they understood it to be. Has the solution changed significantly due to our understanding? If not, they may need to eat the cost of this outside technical resource on their own in their own organization without the benefit of a change order to pay for it and a consultant or consulting organization like this won't be cheap. But if the project is more detailed than the customer originally perceived then you can convince them that this resource is necessary to move the project forward and probably get them to sign off on a change order to cover this consulting service...or at least split the cost of it with your organization.
During issues or Testing or Break-Fix Work
Just like the requirements definition help mentioned above, there can be those times when you are testing a technical solution or trying to roll everything out and you can't get past a few technical issues. It's happened to me before. You may need to call in an outside expert to get the project past that performance testing issue or trouble spot. Again, you may have to assume all the expenses for this within the delivery organization without any change order benefit. At this stage, that is likely. But if you can justify it and feel ok about it, you can certainly try to get the customer to pay for part of it. It depends on the nature of the issues being encountered.
The key is to never hesitate to reach out for help. Never go it alone when you can seek help to get the best answers possible. The project's success may depend on it so put the ego aside and bring in an expert whenever necessary. Anything less is not a smart move.
Readers – what are your thoughts on this? When you are lost do you stop to ask directions? Getting expert help can help you to stay clear of costly re-work that can wreak a project budget and timeline. Please share your thoughts and experiences below.