A Fatal Mistake: Misaligned Deliverables

A Project Manager saying, “I understand exactly what we need to deliver”, without discussing the scope with the project Sponsor, is one of the biggest fatal mistakes a Project Manager can make.  No matter how experienced a Project Manager is, nuances will get them every time.  To be a great project manager, set your ego aside and run through the project management processes you know so well.  If the deliverables are exactly what you thought, then excellent.  If they are not, you just saved your project from disaster.

Understanding what Sponsors want, why deliverables fall short, and how to deliver to expectations will help you succeed where others have failed.

Project Sponsors ask for all sorts of things, from reports to interfaces, software upgrades to marketing initiatives, and knowing exactly what they want, but do you as a Project Manager know what is driving these requests?  Why does the business want to invest in this project?  What do they want to achieve? Typically, projects are catalysts for change, bringing the Sponsor closer to meeting the business objectives.  When a Project Manager understands the business objective, they can make the connection to the value the project is providing and why/how the project needs to meet the deliverable expectations while delivering on schedule and on budget.

The project’s business value may be derived from the following objectives that impact the bottom line:

  1. Removing issue(s)
  2. Reducing risk(s)
  3. Increasing efficiency
  4. Improving accuracy
  5. Increasing quality
  6. Enabling opportunities
  7. Increasing customer satisfaction
  8. Meeting compliance requirements

The project Sponsor will know the business’s current state, the anticipated state, and why the change is so important.  They will also know how the project’s value is impacted by the project delivery timeframe and budget.  For instance, delivering on time will help improve time to market, or avoid fees/penalties, or they can take advantage of the business value quicker, or not miss an opportunity.  Delivering within budget will ensure the estimated value, maximize the ROI, and not overburden the company.  So, not only is it important to achieve the objective, but it’s also beneficial to achieve it in the expected timeframe and within the expected budget.   

If everyone is focused on achieving the project objective, then why or how do deliverables fall short?  Deliverables fall short when the project doesn’t give the sponsor what they are asking for, meaning that the delivery did not meet expectations, was late, or ended up being more expensive than anticipated.  Reasons for this may include:

  1. The sponsor was on a different page
    1. Bigger effort than initially expected
    1. Quality was not acceptable
    1. No transparency to the project’s progress, issues, and constraints
    1. The project ran out of time and/or budget

All this could have been avoided if the project management processes and procedures were followed for:

  1. Defining scope 
  2. Determining success criteria
  3. Tracking project progress  
  4. Tracking budgets spend and forecasting to the end of the project
  5. Managing resources
  6. Collaborating, Communicating, and Confirming

The project scope is usually described in the Statement of Work (SOW) or Project Charter.  Usually, the description is high-level and has room for interpretation.  The first thing a Project Manager should do is meet with the project Sponsor and discuss the scope of the project.  Really try to understand why the project is being executed and how the Sponsor envisions this happening.  Seek to understand and ask pointed questions for further clarification.  Determine what is IN Scope and what is Out of Scope, while confirming with the Sponsor.

Next, the Project Manager and Sponsor should discuss the Success Criteria for the project.  How does the project Sponsor know the project deliverable was successful?  Did it save time?  Were they able to meet the promise made to the shareholders?  Was the business fully functioning with the new software?  What 3-5 items, when checked off, determined the project was a success?  This is critical to understand prior to planning the solution.  The success criteria also lay the foundation for meeting expectations and project sign-off.

From there, the project team, with a more fully defined scope and success criteria, can gather requirements, design the solution, and confirm that the initial schedule and budget are still reasonable for the solution; with the project Sponsor reviewing and approving along the way.  If the dates and/or budget changes, the project Sponsor must approve the change(s), communicating the project’s business value is still achievable.

As you can see from the process above, the project Sponsor is fully engaged and is confident that the project team is on board with their vision, and the project team is confident the project Sponsor is onboard with their solution.  This partnership is key to delivering to the Sponsor’s expectations.

The rest is project management rigor and practice.  You planned the work, now execute the plan.  Track project progress by meeting weekly with the project team.  Manage issues, risks, schedule, and deliverable quality. Track the budget and perform monthly forecasting.  Make sure resources are available and the right people/skills are working on the right tasks.  Communicate progress to the Sponsor on a regular basis and use the Sponsor as an escalation point when decisions need to be made or issues need to be addressed by the organization.  Also, show the Sponsor the deliverables being worked on along the way.  It gets them excited about the anticipated result and they become more invested in the deliverable’s successful delivery.

When partnering with the project Sponsor:  Collaborate, Communicate, and Confirm.  The Sponsor will then know what is to be delivered and when to eliminate guesswork and surprises.  The Sponsor is the ultimate team member for making your project a success.  Use them wisely.      

EPMA is a global solutions company focused on delivering projects better. Our unique proposition that embodies the full ecosystem and portfolio of any organization has enabled us to deliver projects better and make a significant difference. Our unique and proactive approach of having over 20 developers and solutions architects in the business acts as a true enabler for impact. We are more than ever before positioned to add value, advise, and impact your organization.

Interested in hearing more? Please contact EPMA at 832.772.3762 or email us at [email protected]