Making a project come to life because of the technology that an executive wants to try or wants to say that his division is using is a bad reason to have a project. And I feel it goes against some sort of unwritten code of ethics for project managers but I will get to that in another article, most likely (these ideas have to come from somewhere).
Here's my take... never ever ever ever make the project about the technology. It can be awesome. And it can be disastrous. You can end up being in the latest tech magazine and your stock may soar. Or you may end up on the heaping pile of Ryan Leaf NFL busts in terms of tech failures. You may find that bust lands you with a headline on CNN about a tech startup losing a billion dollars on a failed project to implement a new security solution that ended up in security breeches, identity theft and lawsuits because your tech team wasn't quite ready to handle such a project. But then again, they say “there is no such thing as bad publicity” - there is always tomorrow to fix it or capitalize on it. Unless of course this bad decision put you out of business. Then there is no tomorrow.
So what do you do when it appears that the customer or your senior management wants to jump in head first because of the technology? For me, it comes down to these three things...
The end does not justify the means. Getting there isn't really half the battle. Getting there successfully with the right solution is the whole battle – the whole project. There is no half battle or partial project. It's all or nothing. It's not about the right process or the coolest technology or the headlines... good or bad. It's about the successful solution. I had one organization I was leading a project for where the client company was so excited about our solution we were implementing – the first of it's kind in their industry – that they went ahead and published go-live dates in a major industry publication under assumptions made with and by the account manager in our organization who sold them the project.
Unfortunately, those dates became the hard and fast - or “drop dead” - deliverable and implementation dates that I had to build my project schedule backwards from in order to complete and meet the deadlines. There were no other options and no option for me to put together the realistic schedule that I knew and my team knew we could meet safely and accurately. What happened? My team and I found ourselves working onsite at the customer location for two weeks just before Christmas working through issues to get to go-live on time. Blew through money (beyond budget) faster than Usain Bolt can run 100 meters, but we made it!
The desired technology may not be right. The obvious problem is that the desired technology – this bleeding edge choice for the solution – may not be the right technology. The project team needs to understand business processes, what the “as is” environment is and what the desired “to be” environment should look like and figure out if the customer's perception of the project is the true need or if the project is bigger (or smaller) and the customer request or need is merely a symptom of the real project. Then, and only then, can the project team step back and formulate the real project. Following that, they can – with the customer's input – identify what a technical solution should look like including what the proper technology to implement really is. Still hopefully a cool one, but it may not be what the customer is hoping for. “Backing into” the solution from the technology is the wrong way to go... it's like reading English from right to left... pretty painful... bad outcome... headaches.
The skill set may not be there. Finally, the team may not have the skill set to implement the desired technology. That doesn't mean it can't be done. But it probably can't be done without a change order to get the right resource or resources onboard – at least temporarily and probably expensively – for this specific project. Don't get me wrong, implementing a bleeding edge technology in any industry for the first time is feather in the cap of the delivery organization as well as a gem on the resume of the project manager, the business analyst and the entire project technical team. Win-win-win. And the customer organization comes out looking great, too. So if they want it, and it's the right technology for the project team and the customer is willing to pay for it – or your organization can see the benefits of the end publicity – then go for it. The return on investment (ROI) for all involved to eat some costs will be high.
Summary / call for input
The project is the project. That's what the team needs to focus on. It's like putting blinders on because sometimes the customer or senior management will interject their needs and desires and those may be in direct contrast to what is best for them and for the project – and they don't realize it. Stay focused on the successful end solution while taking all these suggestions along the way, but resist the urge to act upon them. At least not until you've ensured that they are the best roadmap to success.
Readers – have you had customer project scenario where it was all about the technology and the success of a new solution? How did you calm the enthusiasm while you sorted through the need to determine if that was the best path for the project. You can just proceed with the customer request as is, but if you get to the end and implement something that doesn't really solve the need, the onus is on the delivery team, not the customer.