Preparing Your Project Expedition Part 3 – Business Considerations
Welcome back as we continue mapping your project journey with Part 3 of this article series; Business Considerations. As with Part 2, Project Management Considerations, our goal is to understand what the business expects as project outcomes; in other words, project success factors. The business is the driver of the project. The business provides functional requirements, funding, final approvals, subject matter experts (SMEs) and user perspective on the product/service being developed.
As before, we will explain the importance and potential impacts of not considering these topics. So let’s get started with our business topics.
Is there a fixed or not-to-exceed budget that has been established? If your project has been granted unlimited funding, congratulations may be in order. However, you are a steward and as such you must work in the best interest of your customer, which means spending responsibly. Most projects have a set funding level, which is usually set by either funds available, similar project budgets, or derived from a well-planned scope, hopefully your is the latter.
Obviously, as depicted in Part 1 of this article, funding (or cost) is one side of the Project Management Trinity. The amount of funding has direct correlation to scope. The business may have expectations that are ancillary to the core project goals such as including new user or office hardware or the use of specific 3rd party products that have training and licensing expenses; which will impact the budget for the core product/service.
What does the product, and/or service, intend to accomplish? Out of pure excitement, people tend to dive too deep too early into the detail of how the product is to function. At this stage, you will need to stay at a high level. You should focus on expected outcomes and priorities; what the product/service is supposed to do, not how it will accomplish it.
This exercise is the beginning of your work breakdown structure (WBS), which feeds your schedule. Remember, you are only gathering enough information to chart a course, not to manage the project. Simple statements may lead to additional questions, but your goal is to pull out enough information to outline the high-level expectations. Asking some of the following questions will help to define your criteria for success.
- Is the project for a new product/service or an upgrade/replacement?
- Who are the audience/users of the product/service?
- What information does the company intend to collect and maintain?
- What information (i.e. reports) does the company intend to publish from/about the product/service and at what complexity?
- What features should the product/service have, and at what priority to the business?
- Does the product/service need to integrate with any other products/services?
- Are there any standards or certifications the product/service must meet?
- What type of business continuity (availability & disaster recovery) does the company envision?
Ideally, your goal is to come out of the discussion with statements that you can then use to measure the success of the project. Statements may resemble some of the following bullets.
- The system must contain all case and case member information.
- The system must be accessible from a mobile device.
- The system will allow the company to have paperless case files.
- There must be a portal for customers to make payments, view payments and receipts, and modify their contact information.
- The system must generate 30 reports; 10 of high complexity, 15 of average complexity, and 5 of low complexity.
What level of data security is necessary? In other words, are you dealing with IRS, HIPAA, PCI or some other data that requires specific security compliance? Standards must be followed or penalties and sanctions will be incurred. Not only does it have a monetary impact, but a customer and consumer confidence impact as well.
Depending on the standards, the project may incur additional costs because you need to incorporate annual training, provide higher levels of secure disposal of printed materials, and have additional secured space in your project facility to store documentation to maintain compliance.
Does the company intend to use their own Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) or rely on contract resources for SMEs? Most companies do not have enough resources to dedicate to a project full-time, especially government projects. Quite often the SME is expected to do their normal duties as well as participate in the project, which means attending design sessions, reviewing documentation, and possibly perform some level of testing. The SME can be overburdened and impact the schedule due to availability. Often in-house SME’s have fixed hours. You will need to determine if overtime compensation is approved for those company employees assigned to the project?
Is there existing data that will need to be migrated to the new product? If the answer is yes, then consider this a critical portion of the project, in both time and resources. Depending on certain decisions, such as using transfer or off-the-shelf products, can influence the degree to which data conversion impacts the project. Although transfer and off-the-shelf products may be built for your industry, they were not specifically built for your company. Your current data structure(s) may not fit the product without a considerable amount of transformation effort. Technical experts and SMEs must collaborate, review and test conversion rules to ensure proper business continuity upon implementation.
Additionally, you need to determine if data exists that require manual entry; scanned or otherwise. If so, there is an increase in the scope and cost as additional resources will be required. Rarely does a company have enough available resources to accomplish such an effort.
What level of implementation support is expected leading up to and post implementation? Understand that this topic is end-user focused. Besides developing a major product/service, you must consider the preparation and support of the end-user; training, on-site support and application help desk services. These services require planning and consume resources. Training and on-site support staffing needs to balloon for a short period of time depending on the number of end-users to prepare and support. Again, quite often, the company does not have the resources to dedicate to these services. If a vendor is employed to develop the product/service, these activities tend to be the vendor’s responsibility.
What level of transition of knowledge or process is expected? If the business intends to utilize a vendor, there are a number of additional expectations that need to be documented regarding transition; unless the company intends to continue contracting services for ongoing SMEs, training, and application help desk. It is important to outline the expectations to ensure you are aligned with the appropriate funding and resource allocation to continue any future changes or enhancements of the product/service.
What specific communications are required (e.g. status reports, status meetings, newsletters, budget update/projections, federal reports, dashboards, etc.)? Communication is a crucial component of any project; it drives perceptions, influences support, motivates and builds confidence when stakeholders believe they are getting timely and accurate information.
Think about what the company envisions for communication with all the stakeholders (investors, clients, staff, partners, etc.). Communication can consume a significant amount of project resources. Project communications could be as simple as a regular status meeting and email or as complex as commercials, roadshows, newsletters, publications, and dedicated websites; all of which impact time, resources and scope. The following bullets will help you capture your communication requirements to determine the impact to your project. *Note – this same information will be used for the project’s communication plan.
- Who – Identify the role(s) responsible for developing the communication
- What – Identify what the communication is to be known as (i.e. Title)
- Where – Identify where the communication will be delivered to. This could be specific company or project roles and/or external partners (e.g. Director, end-user, or customer)
- When – Describe the frequency of delivery of the communication (e.g. one-time, every Friday. 1st business day of the month, etc.)
- Why – Explain the scope, concept or purpose of the communication
- How – Describe what mechanism will be used to publish the communication (e.g. email, website, official mail, TV Advertisement, etc.)
Once you have an idea of the number and frequency of communications, you can determine whether you need dedicated staff or use shared responsibilities.
What is the ongoing maintenance budget allocation? Although not a direct impact on your project, it is a consideration when making decisions on the project approach. For example, if the budget for maintenance is fairly small, you may want to consider a Custom off the Shelf (COTS) product as it is maintained by a community of developers and usually includes support, which in turn may require fewer resources for ongoing support.
On the other hand, a COTS product may not meet the business need, therefore a custom system might be required. The business will need to maintain IT support and any enhancements or modifications will require a maintenance project, which in turn may require more resources for ongoing support.
“Success is the delivery of a product that meets expectation[s]”
~James Leal – Guide to Assembling the Project Initiation Document
Remember, “On time and under budget” is a goal, not the expectation. Manage to the customer’s expectations and every project will be a success! Stay tuned for Part 4 – Technical Considerations ∆