On-Time- On Budget- On Spec: Pick Two


Project management is a vital but sometimes frustrating practice. The spectrum of project management we encounter with our clients ranges from Agile or Six Sigma shops to Ghant chart and Microsoft Project, to an excel spreadsheet to track tasks, to nada.


Some clients are pretty resistant to project management controls. Still, it’s crucial to have that governor in place, or the negative impact can include: scope creep, unrealized expectations, and a project/product that doesn’t meet the client’s needs. I have found that some clients are resistant to project management until we get to persona building, client input, and iterating on the input, and of course, retrospectives.


Frankly, the entire point of project management is to deliver results, on time, on budget, and spec. Of course, it’s impossible to deliver equally on all three. Hence the point of the title. Some service providers have difficulty managing expectations, causing unhappy clients. Additionally, some clients have difficulty managing projects in their environment. I recently spoke with an IT programs manager who was lamenting over the resistance to project management in municipalities. He’s to the point where he’s happy if he can get a task list created. I’ve found it fruitful to use some of the following techniques:


  • Pick the right clients and understand what results they expect- Don’t discount this step as impossible. You have more control than you think. OK, maybe that department head is demanding, but if you can agree on the desired results, you’ve got something you can work with. Next, the client needs to do like it says in the title, “pick two.” Having all three is a myth–too many constraints, unsatisfied people, and subpar results.

  • Prioritize with the stakeholders- You have to figure out what’s important. Is it timeframe, budget, or scope (and if it is scope, you need to prioritize again.) This forces a constraint on you, which will push you to make tough (and frequently creative) decisions.

  • The reality of delivering quality results- The IT programs manager I mentioned earlier. He also firmly believes that government projects focus on the quality of results (which in most cases is some kind of service delivery), NOT the quality of the product. Your team must set expectations with clients. Again if you promise on time, on budget, and spec, you’ll not be able to deliver all three with a high level of quality. I mean, you’ll provide something (Frankenstein’s Monster, perhaps), but it won’t be what you all agreed to during the prioritizing process.

  • Flexibility- The ability to change is vital. Having everything fixed makes it tough to change. Flexibility is everything! Allowing flexibility (we can increase the budget, expand the time frame, change the scope) will introduce options based on your experience building the product.


So, yes, project management is not for the weak of heart. Promising clients everything they want (fixed price, fixed scope, fixed timeframe) simply isn’t realistic if you’re going to deliver successful results.








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