Our goal as project managers is to be successful in every aspect of our field and on every task of our projects. We never want to miss a milestone, let a deadline pass without delivery, or hand off a less than stellar project deliverable to the customer. We even want our user acceptance testing to always go off without a hitch, right? That’s a little pie in the sky, but you get the idea.
I don’t think there has ever been a project in the history of HighGear’s project manager software that has glided through from inception to deployment without some issues or bumps in the road – no matter how big or small. If you have truly had such a project, then you can probably leave the room because you have experienced perfection. This article is geared more towards the concept of what is critical on the project – what are those defining moments that can make or break a project and therefore need some special oversight from the project manager…a little extra effort. And I’m not talking about the ongoing tasks like communicating with the customer, updating and distributing the project schedule, holding weekly status meetings with your project client and delivering regular status reports. Those just must be done as part of ongoing project management best practices – they are obvious ones and they keep the team engaged and the customer happy. Don’t stop doing those things…ever.
What I’m talking about are a few things that need to be done well in order to get the next stage of the project off on the right foot. Let’s examine these…
- The handoff to project management
If your organization is such that account managers close the deal and transfer the project off to the PMs in professional services, then I know what you’re going through and I feel for you. The key is to get as much info as possible from the account manager that worked with the client…learn the quirks and get every piece of information possible. You never know what will end up giving you an edge on the project and what small piece of information can help you define a critical requirement correctly leading to the proper final solution being delivered months later.
- The project kickoff
Likewise, the project kickoff is one of those defining moments where milestones are often set, assumptions are confirmed, and the next stages of the project are scheduled. The experienced project manager doesn’t let this event pass without making a very positive and professional impression on the customer and project sponsor and ensuring that everyone knows he’s in charge and exactly how he intends to run the project. Set expectations at this meeting and then be prepared to meet those expectations throughout the engagement.
- User acceptance testing
Many customers aren’t really prepared for user acceptance testing (UAT) and have no experience preparing test cases and test plans. Your team can help guide them through the process, but you can’t do it for them – otherwise you’ll have a very biased team – intentionally or unintentionally – preparing all the test cases. Not good. Follow best practices and get the client prepared, but don’t do the work for them….it could come back to haunt you at deployment time.
- Deployment / support handoff
This may seem like a ‘take the money and run’ moment, but it definitely is not. Even if the project has gone poorly and the last customer check has been cut and put in the mail, you still can’t just phone it in. Some of the best referrals and ‘next business’ comes from how you handle the final moments of the project. If the project has gone well and you stumble at the finish line, you may wipe out a whole year of good karma with your customer and lose any chance of recurring business with them or a good referral. Conversely, if it’s gone poorly up to this point, but you stick with it, conduct lessons learned and have those tough discussions and make a smooth handoff to support, you just may show the customer that you’re worth another try. Never burn a bridge just to get a bad project over with.
The bottom line is, as project managers we need to do a lot of things well on our projects and there are certain ongoing tasks that are critical to our projects’ increased chances for success. However, there are some milestone activities – like the ones discussed in this article – that are what I like to call ‘defining moments’ where doing them right makes everything that follows that much easier. If you have thoughts on other ‘defining moments’ on your projects, please comment and discuss.