By Keith Wilson, B.Comm., PMP, MCT, MCTS, Senior Trainer and Consultant, IIL
Good project planning requires asking and answering several questions in order to begin the process.
Very often, there is a limited time to perform a needs analysis. Therefore, it is essential that you have a framework for structuring your questions and collecting information. The following baseball example is an excellent framework.
For many years, I have used this baseball framework as a method for gathering requirements and understanding a client’s current situation, future needs and existing problems.
Recently, I was asked to do a diagnosis of project management processes and solutions that were being employed by a company involved in the software development for healthcare insurance.
Going to ‘First Base’, I interviewed 18 people about the current situation. I discovered they basically had a few forms that they filled out. They closed projects when the customer stopped calling.
Well, I moved forward to ‘Second Base’ to discuss future needs.
Their response, “… we’ve bought 300 licenses of Microsoft Project®. We’d like to know how to use it. We’d like to know how to do a risk analysis, to have clear, concise and consistent scope documents and to manage change”.
I then moved to ‘Third Base’, because even as a hockey player I learned that you can’t run to home plate from second base and score a run, if you skip third base.
From my third base perspective I asked, “What kind of existing problems are you facing?” And they indicated that they were hit during their last quarter with $500,000 in penalties for late implementations. They also estimated they left approximately $750,000 of billable work on the table. In other words, they had a customer calling and requesting a change. They couldn’t really prove to the customer it was a change in scope because they didn’t have a scope document. They were feeling guilty because, well, they were running late; therefore, they would say yes.
But in hindsight they felt the customer request was beyond scope. If they could have proved it, they would have billed for the extra requested work, which they did not, and subsequently lost the estimated $750,000 in revenue. We reviewed this difficult lesson learned. We executed a staged-in solution which involved proactively solving these problems, while satisfying their specific and measurable needs.
By playing baseball, we’ve practiced Habit 5 of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Dr. Stephen Covey, where we “Seek First to Understand” – understand things like current situation, future needs and existing problems, before “Being Understood” and phasing in our solution.
Core Questions for Key Stakeholders
“As you think about your project’s successful outcomes what is important to you?”
1st Base Question: Where are you now with _____?
2nd Base Question: Where do you want to be?
3rd Base Question: What are the problems with the current situation?
Let’s Have a Feast
Avoid using poorly defined, ambiguous terms, such as Effective, Efficient, Better, Faster, Improved, Profitable, and More.
It’s as if I was saying, “Let’s have a feast”. Some people may be envisioning this feast as going to a fast-food restaurant, having french-fries, burgers and a Cola. Others may envision the feast as going to a fine-dining restaurant, sitting down with white linens, having some drinks, an appetizer, a salad, soup du jour, a sorbet and an entree with Chardonnay and finishing with Crème Brule.
The number one reason why projects fail is the lack of specific and measurable deliverables. I imagine a majority of you have heard things like, “Make it better!” “Faster!” “Improve!” “Portable” “Scalable” “Profitable” and the inevitable “User Friendly” scope instruction.
What do they mean? They mean absolutely nothing!
When we use ambiguously-defined words like “feast” or “faster,” different people hear the same word and may have very different perceptions in defining the project scope.
So instead, what you want to do is ensure your deliverables are not dumb, but are SMART!
Keith Wilson is a Microsoft Project and Project Management Senior Consultant/Trainer for International Institute for Learning, Inc. His background includes over 25 years of successful management and consulting experience, with a focus that includes project management, training, and business planning. Well known for his public speaking skills and enthusiasm, he has been a welcomed facilitator at numerous Fortune 500 corporations, Universities and Associations worldwide.