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Impossible Project Management Template Targets

April 9 2010

Impossible Project Management Template Targets

What do you do if you’re handed a Project Plan with impossible targets or goals?  Ok, it’s not often that you’re truly handed ‘impossible’ targets for your project, but sometimes they’re impractical.  Or you know from experience that some of the project goals will be nearly impossible to achieve.  Has this ever happened to you?  Well, it’s happened to me.

I was handed a major enterprise-wide software implementation project for a major player in the airline industry.  Great nice visibility, new industry for the company I was working for.  Loved the responsibility, the chance to lead us down a path the company had never gone before.  One problem – the customer wanted a 90-day implementation!

First, our company had never done a 90-day implementation before (and this type of Project Management Software implementation requires much customer configuration…90 days is unheard of).  Second, it’s in an industry we had never touched before requiring configurations we had never performed before.  And it required certain types of data that our software had never handled before.  90 days?  Who agreed to that in the first place before it was handed to me?  Sales, that’s who.  And now I will briefly jump up on my podium and state for everyone to hear that these are the reasons that project managers should be involved in the sales process.  But I digress.

When you’re handed a lemon, make lemonade, right?  There’s not much you can do in this situation, unless of course you want to resign, which I did not.  Here’s what I did:

– Held a lengthy hand-off call with Sales.  Actually, it was several lengthy calls.  I got the account manager on the phone and requested every piece of information, every mocked-up report, every set of meeting notes possible.  I needed to know what the customer had been promised so I could go into onsite meetings with the customer and be well prepared.
– Put together a detailed presentation for the customer.  I put together a very detailed presentation for the customer on our project management process using project management templates.  I included key information from the statement of work including key dates and deliverables so that they were right there in front of everyone for the kickoff meeting.
– Held a detailed kickoff meeting.  The next step in the project management process was to hold a day-long kickoff session.  I went over the statement of work, draft schedule, dates, deliverables, etc. with the customer in detail and we gained mutual agreement and understanding.
– Expanded the exploration phase of the project in the project schedule.  Once the customer understood the difficulties and unlikeliness of a 90-day implementation, I expanded the next phase of the project in the project schedule to include a larger timeframe.  This was the exploration phase which is basically designed to better explore and establish the customer business processes and create deeper requirements for the project.  This deeper dive into requirements is critical to a more successful project management template use experience for the customer and a more overall successful project, less chance for re-work.
– Braced myself and my team.  We had already taken what the customer had been promised and tossed it out the window, that’s the 90-day implementation agreement they had with Sales.  So now we had to make them happier because we were basically starting out with them somewhat unhappy.

The Outcome

The outcome actually was good.  What was promised as a 90-day implementation actually took about 6 months, but we worked hard to gain customer understanding of what was involved, kept them informed throughout and they really appreciated it.  The moral here is, set or reset, realistic customer expectations and work side-by-side with the customer.  This will greatly increase your chance for project success.