Often a project’s real problems only come to light as we get closer to the pointy end of the lifecycle. Like the Rutherford scattering experiment, the nearer we get to final delivery, the greater the chance is that we encounter problems that can throw the project completely off course
Project execution might seem to be going smoothly with the required product or solution taking shape when we find out it isn’t what the sponsor actually expected.
The positive interpretation of this situation is that it’s better to get the bad news sooner rather than later because it would be worse to deliver an unacceptable final product. So, the earlier we detect the issue, the more opportunity we have to remedy the situation.
Indeed, experienced PMs would be looking to mitigate the risk of misunderstood, or misinterpreted requirements, as early in the project as possible. They would also be wary of sponsor or stakeholder silence, preferring robust critique of plans, specifications, or early prototypes of the product.
The late discovery of problems is what every project team tries to avoid, yet there is also an inevitability to the problem. And we cannot blame the sponsor for identifying issues late. The end-goal of any project is often vague and blurry at the start, and it is not until the project advances that the required product or solution reveals itself – and sadly, that required deliverable is not always what the project team is building!
Early detection of problems needs to be actively encouraged – a projectized version of the entrepreneur’s failing fast mantra. This highlights the power of prototyping which offers the sponsor early visibility of deliverables and so allows validation of the project direction. Or not. Because, helping them to realize what they do NOT want, can be just as valuable as discovering what they do.
Taking the sponsor and key stakeholders along on this journey of discovery is clearly what a successful project team has to do. This requires continual engagement and open communications as a passive sponsor is not helpful, and quite possibly dangerous for a project. Creative ways need to be found to coax them to engage with the project, inviting them to provide a critical assessment of the project status and direction. Because if they are not telling you what they are thinking all the way through the project lifecycle, they will surely let you know their concerns as the final delivery milestone approaches. Such last-minute surprises are never welcomed by stakeholders and force sharp deviations from the plan that run the risk of derailing the entire project.