The Importance of [good] Project Management and Communication

I know it’s been a long time since I last posted…and for that I apologize.  Now that life has settled down a bit, I’m able to dedicate a little time to this…that being said, let’s dive right in!

I am constantly reminded of the need for a client to have a good project manager, especially when working between multiple vendors.   Most software vendors have project managers that will work directly with the client on a particular project or task (depending on the size and scope of the task), but when multiple software vendors are involved, many times the customer gets lost in the shuffle if they aren’t careful to have a strong project manager.  From the customer’s perspective, setting proper (and realistic) expectations from the beginning is key.

Scenario:

Scope: Vendor A and Vendor B build a bi-directional interface to share information across the two applications.
Expectations: Vendor A configures interface for both applications, Vendor B will verify complete implementation and schedule training with the client.
Initial Estimated Timeline: 2-3 weeks after initial install

Actual Process:

Day 1-3:  Vendor A completes the interface installation, and informs the client that everything is complete.   Vendor B completes first set of tests and finds 2 bugs which need to be addressed by Vendor A.  Customer is given the steps necessary to verify bugs are fixed.

Day 5-7: Vendor A resolves first set of bugs, Customer tests and verifies.

Day 8: Customer discovers that Flat file from Software A is needed to import into Software B.  Requests the appropriate format from Vendor B and sends to Vendor A.

Day 14-19: Vendor A creates flat file and imports into Software B. Customer finds possible bug, requests information from Vendor A.  Vendor A states all information is correct, asks for Vendor B to verify completion.

Day 20: Vendor B verifies import was correct, but bug that customer found does exist.  Vendor B and customer confirm exact problem and provides documentation to Vendor A.

Day 24-31 – Vendor A resolves final bugs and releases client for training.

 

What you don’t see in this process is the dozens of emails from the client to both vendors and multiple phone calls that took place to resolve the various issues that should have been taken care of on Day 1.  Imagine this process without a client advocate [read: project manager] to manage this process and maintain the information flow between both vendors and the client.   Without diligent communication and follow-through by the project manager, what would have happened is that on Day 1 when Vendor A completed their steps, the client would have called to schedule their training with Vendor B.

This is because the client assumes that Vendor A and Vendor B have already done this process hundreds of times, and that everyone already knows what they’re doing.  Unfortunately, there are too many variables in software implementations that what may seem simple (even to technical staff) is not necessarily so simple.

As you can see from this scenario, it took 31 days rather than the 14-21 days that were originally estimated.  According to both vendors, 14-21 days was a very exaggerated time-frame, as the process was “simple” to finish.   In this case, it wasn’t so simple.  To me this stresses the importance of a project manager on the client side of the project.  It helps for that person to be knowledgeable enough to actually get involved in the nuts and bolts of the implementation to keep both vendors honest.

This is an important part of the vendor-customer relationship going past the project, because a smooth, timely project helps create a positive relationship for both the client and the vendor(s).   Remember all those vendors who couldn’t manage a project to save their lives?  I sure do.  In fact, I’ve even been on the vendor side of the unmanageable projects that turn out to be a nightmare because of any number of reasons.   No vendor ever tries to create a project that doesn’t go smoothly, so anything the customer can do to help the process is extremely important.

Since I try to focus on nonprofit organizations here, I know that a staff member dedicated to project management can be quite expensive and that’s not necessarily feasible for each organization.   If I had any advice for those looking at upcoming projects or even current projects, it would be to find the person that is your “Super User” (for application projects, etc.) or is one of the folks that this project is designed to benefit (stakeholders) to be involved in the project management, even if only in a limited scope.  It’s important that the person involved has a stake in the success of the project, because that gives them motivation to see the project come to a timely, successful completion.  And while project timeliness is important, a complete and successful project that is 3 days over the due date is better than a project that’s on-time but has many outstanding issues that will ultimately carry past the due date to resolve or cause significant technical, operational or logistical problems in the future.

If you are needing technical assistance with project management for vendors, please feel free to get in touch with me.  I have a consulting company that specializes in Information Technology needs for small to medium-sized organizations, and project management is something I do as part of my consulting.