What Can Go Wrong During the Inception Phase

What Can Go Wrong During the Inception Phase

It is my contention that most projects fail during the Inception phase, but the participants fail to recognize it. The project plods along until the risks that were not addressed during Inception come back to haunt everyone. Here are some examples of Inception phase problems:

  • One common failure is establishing a formal contract for the complete design, development, and delivery of the system before the goals of the Inception phase have been achieved. As noted in Chapter 3, "Getting Started: Request for Proposals (RFPs), Proposals, and Contracts," how can you determine a reasonable bid before you know the project's important requirements and risks? Unfortunately, in an outsourcing situation, the decision to release a Request for Proposal (RFP) for a project from start to finish has already been made, and you are expected to submit a bid. These projects can (and do!) still succeed, but a constant focus on scope is mandatory.

  • Failure to set expectations. Most sources of difficulty in client relationships are due to poorly set expectations. This is a manifestation of poor communication between client and contractor. Always keep your client informed of project status, risks, concerns, and goals. If you have to deliver bad news to your customer, deliver it as soon as possible. Try to supply the customer with alternatives for solving the problem as well.

  • Failure to obtain stakeholder concurrence on requirements. The project's goal is to satisfy the client's needs. This cannot be accomplished without the client's concurrence that the proper set of requirements have been identified and established. Without obtaining this concurrence, progress proceeds rapidly but unravels as the client recognizes that the desired functionality has not been implemented. By that time, it is much more diffi-cult to recover. Take the time to work with the customer. See Chapter 9 for suggestions in this area.

  • Failure to identify and manage project risks. Chapter 8 covers some methods of identifying and tracking risks.

Establishing a Sense of Ownership of the Project Plan

At the beginning of this chapter, I stated that most projects start with a sense of excitement. Another factor involved in maintaining this excitement and sense of urgency is establishing a sense of ownership of and control over portions of the project with members of the project team. Depending on the project manager's management style, this may be challenging. Here are some suggestions:

  • Before asking team members to produce schedule estimates, advise the team on the importance of adhering as closely as possible to schedule estimates. Indicate that they as team members are responsible for producing estimates they have a good chance of achieving.

  • Ask the team members responsible for the work to produce the project estimates. This gives them a sense of ownership of and responsibility for meeting the deadlines.

  • As much as possible, resist the urge to overrule the estimates of the team members. This is important for two reasons. First, the team members are the ones performing the work and, therefore, are in the best position to know how long a task will take. Second, overruling their estimate eliminates their sense of control and is detrimental to morale. If you disagree with the team members' estimate, instead of asking them to change the estimate, discuss it with them. Ask them to explain the factors and information they considered in producing the estimate. You will either become convinced of the estimate's validity, or you may be able to correct some information that will lead the team members to update the estimate to a more agreeable number. This allows the team members to retain their sense of control over and ownership of the estimate.

  • Take your commitments to the team seriously. If you schedule a meeting or event, recognize that this is a commitment to the team. The team members will see your behavior as setting an example for the team to follow.

  • Involve the team in monitoring the project's progress. In-group settings focus on the team's performance as a whole. If you are using a tool such as IBM Rational's Project-Console, you can create color graphs to show trend charts illustrating the progress. Post these in common areas where team members congregate.