A few weeks ago, news broke of the rental car company, Hertz, suing their contracted web developer, Accenture, for $32M.
Hertz claimed, among other things, that Accenture:
- Never delivered a functional website or a mobile website at all
- Postponed the go-live date twice, totaling over 16 months of delays
- Did not deliver on key project requirements
- Wrote code with major vulnerabilities
- Did not do proper testing of the website
And you thought YOUR project had problems?
We have all been on “troubled projects” from time to time and it’s no surprise that there are lessons to be learned on all sides of this story. As someone who has been running and managing projects for over 20 years, and as a certified Project Management Professional (PMP), here are a few of my key takeaways.
Start with a Discovery Project
One of the biggest problems I see on almost every project is that requirements change over time. The deeper you get into your project, the more you realize that the things you THOUGHT you wanted really aren’t the things you NEED. To an extent this is to be expected and planned for, but if left unchecked it can ruin a project before it even gains traction.
By engaging in a smaller discovery project before starting the actual work you can catch these issues before too much time, energy, and money is wasted doing the wrong things. You’ll have a clear picture of the end goals, metrics, and vision before any work starts. The project team will be in alignment and you’ll have a much higher chance of success while still being able to stay nimble enough to handle those last-minute changes of scope.
Peak Performance Digital starts every engagement with a discovery project. The extra time spent upfront has saved our clients an incredible amount of time, money, and stress. In most cases, the project helps us set our “North Star.” In other rare cases, it has saved our clients from making costly mistakes by proving, up front, that their initiatives would not be profitable.
Pick the right team!
The right project team, both internal and external, can make or break your project. The team needs to be aligned on the same goals and understand all the key requirements from the outset. Too often, a client focuses solely on hiring the right external team to do a job without taking into consideration the internal resources that will also be needed. We believe that a successful project comes from having both sides, internal and external, working together to achieve the same goal.
A successful internal team will have a strong understanding of the project requirements, goals, and outcomes that goes well beyond the surface level. Simply knowing that a widget needs to be blue is a whole lot different than understanding WHY that widget needs to be blue. Similarly, the internal team needs to have access to the decision-making resources within the company while still be empowered to make decisions without holding things up. It’s a delicate balancing act, and one that we are happy to help you with.
Your external team or consultants should be your trusted partner and subject matter experts. They should have a broad multidisciplinary understanding of your business needs while also possessing the depth of knowledge to get the job done. Too often, I see consultants being hired because they are “best of breed” in one area, but they fail miserably when it comes to developing a solution that fits into the bigger picture.
Another mistake I see all too often is clients treating their consultants simply as order takers. They deliver exactly what the client asks for, but not what the client actually needs. In the end, nobody is happy. For a project to be successful, both the vendor/consultant and client need to work as partners for the good of the business as a whole.
Past Performance does not predict future success:
You know the old saying, “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM?” I’ve heard the same thing said of Accenture and the other big consulting groups. I can say from experience (I’ve worked for, worked with, and have hired these big agencies) that they fail just as often, if not more, than any other company. I’ve also seen tiny no-name consultancies pull miracles out of their hats. The key isn’t how well-established the vendor is, they key is how well they fit the needs of your specific project.
At Peak Performance Digital we refuse to take on projects where we aren’t a good fit. In fact, we refer out more work than we take on since we know that our reputation is on the line each time we do a job.
Be wary of vendor relationships:
As a vendor/consultant, this one is a touchy subject. There is a fine line between trust and healthy skepticism. Most consultants will come into a project biased with a certain set of tools that they like to use, certain subcontractors that they know and trust, and methodologies that they have either developed or perfected. It’s always a smart idea, however, to do your own due diligence to ensure that those recommendations are a good fit for your business needs. Ask questions and don’t hesitate to challenge assumptions. Also, don’t be shy to ask whether the consultant is receiving compensation for recommending certain tools or vendors. It’s common practice, and perfectly fine, in the industry for consultants to have “partner vendors” as long as they align with your needs.
As with every other consultancy Peak Performance Digital has certain tools, vendors, and methodologies that we recommend as well as several products that we receive commission on. We also understand that every client has special needs and we always recommend the tool or vendor that is best for our customers regardless of how profitable it is for us.
New projects are exciting! They are also exhausting and hard work. Once the novelty of a new project wears off it’s easy to fall into complacency, so it is critical that you find a way to stay engaged in your project throughout the duration. This includes the difficult and boring middle parts of the project where you’ll undoubtedly start questioning your sanity and you start wondering whether it will ever be finished.
I don’t have a cure for the dreaded mid-project slump, but I can strongly recommend having regular project check-ins with the key players on your project team. Doing so can help ensure that progress is still being made and can give you visibility into any trouble that might be just around the corner.
Project management isn’t sexy or exciting, but a successful project sure is! We know the importance of strong project management which is why Peak Performance Digital puts so much emphasis on doing it right and trying to make it as fun and painless as possible!