Money Can’t Buy Good Beginnings

Keeping goals modest and breaking down deliverables is key to success

The ancient rabbis of the Talmud explained that, “all beginnings are difficult.”

It’s an insightful thought, and here’s a true story of beginnings. In a large, downtown boardroom, the top executives gathered to discuss a new IT project for their multinational firm. The orders came down from the top that a new e-commerce system had to be implemented within a year to handle all of the company’s business. It was a large undertaking, and everyone was brought together to talk about getting it done.

The Chief Financial Officer interrupted the din of conversation by raising his hands and bringing the room to a quick silence. “I would like to tell you all a story,” he said, and dropped his hands to his side. “This story is important,” he continued, “because it’s about another project that we attempted in this company. A large undertaking. A tremendous undertaking. Two hundred million dollars, in fact.” He paused and looked from face to face before he spoke again. “And the worst thing about the project, is that it’s never seen the light of day.” The CFO adjusted his blue tie, pulling on it slightly as if to ground himself to the chair.

He continued to speak, “Two years ago I received a call from the Chief of Technology. He explained that since his hire six months prior he’d discovered that the company had over 300 disparate database systems, each integral to the operation of the company. In addition, he told me that none of these systems could communicate with one another, that there were no conduits between them. We were wasting millions of dollars he insisted.”

The CFO got up from his chair, walked over to the refreshment table, and poured himself a cup of coffee. “You see,” he said, “I am a skeptical guy and wouldn’t believe this new Chief of Technology right off the bat. So I hired a hotshot consulting company to come in and do a full blown analysis of the systems in question.” He walked back to his chair and sat down, taking a sip of his coffee.

“After several months of investigation,” explained the CFO, “the consulting company sent me a three hundred page document that, to be completely honest with you, was difficult to entirely understand. However, from the gist of its summary, there was confirmation of large scale IT trouble.”

The CFO put his coffee on the table, stopped talking, and looked at each of the people around the room. He leaned forward resting his elbows against the boardroom table. “Somehow, the Chief of Technology at the time, his name was Robert M**** was able to convince the company’s board of directors that something massive and all-encompassing had to be done to correct the technology situation.”

“Why is this story important to the task at hand? Because after spending two hundred million dollars, we’ve still failed to bring these databases together. We are still far from solving our IT nightmare despite thousands of hours of work, and an insane amount of money thrown at the problem. And what’s the message? Be careful to make sure your e-commerce project is not out of control like the database project we have failed to deliver.”

Keep Goals Modest; Break Down Deliverables

This story teaches us an important lesson. When contemplating the beginning of a new project keep your goals modest. Trying to accomplish too much is a major cause of project failure. Breaking down your deliverables and managing their scope is a solid project philosophy that certainly subscribes to the notion that less is more. As we have discussed, when teams gather to implement projects they have a myriad of obstacles to overcome: communication breakdown, miscalculating the time and effort a task will require, Murphy’s Law, renegade vendors, and much more. The factor of difficulty grows quickly when a smaller project is transformed into an over ambitious one.

Some experts have found that 60% to 70% of after delivery maintenance costs can be greatly reduced by having a strategy that minimizes mistakes usually caused by over ambitious project deliverables. Keeping your project strategy simple helps insure that your project team makes fewer mistakes. And that means at the end of the day, there will be less to go back and fix, after the final product is delivered to the client. This can help to greatly reduce costs associated with on-going maintenance, saving you big money down the line.

It is the job of the responsible manager to direct the expectations from both below and above in the chain of command. The employees in your stead may not realize the damage that can come from putting too many eggs in their project baskets. Beware of acquiescent workers that offer a “quick yes” to project questions. And management may be pressuring to achieve great, heroic things in relation to deliverables, timelines and budgets. Despite external forces that may be acting upon your projects, communicate and execute a proven strategy: take large-scale projects and break them down into smaller, digestible parts. Giant projects tend to break under their own weight. It is in your best interest to simplify as much as possible, to keep your precious resources from getting lost in a never ending world of perpetual development and implementation.

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