Plan ahead, and then plan ahead again…

This is Part 2 of our The Life of a Project Series

Our first meeting on this project was a few weeks ago. We went there to learn about the scope of the project, determine how many people we needed to put on it, the deadlines, and more. We met with two of the main people involved before sitting briefly with the marketing department as well. The main engineer responsible for the project explained what we would have to do, showed us an example of one part of the document, and finally gave us his estimate that he had completed 40% of the document (except for editing) and that he anticipated it would take 20 hours to finish.

I had already estimated at least double that amount based solely on an initial review and the description of what was needed. I explained that while my estimate was hovering at the 40 hour mark, based on their deadlines, the maximum we could put in was 60 hours. I asked them to open a purchase order for 60 hours, explaining that we only charge for hours worked. This would, I explained, ensure continuity during the life of the project.

The company decided to authorize 40 hours, with the clear understanding that none of us could afford the time to do a complete study to assess the project better. One fail point, we would later discover, was that while the company was sure they knew what they needed, in fact, the full requirements were still not clear and as we worked, they worked with various individuals inside and outside their company to fine-tune what was needed.

The requirements document of the agency to which this document would be submitted was not well written (this document was produced by an international entity and it was our job (WritePoint and the company) to fulfill those requirements.

To do this, it was decided that the subject matter experts would write responses and we would compile, edit and complete the final document. Another fail point was that dealing with so many engineers, the quality of the responses was uneven at best and in some cases countered the marketing positioning of the company. Decisions as to what would be included were fluid and changed often.

Had the scope been better defined, the project would have been started earlier. Instead, with 60 normal working hours left before the first deadline, we were handed a project that would take double that time in the end.

From hindsight, the first lesson – plan ahead – was not properly applied nor could it have been given the time framework in which WritePoint was introduced to the project. Given the importance of the project to this company’s anticipated growth, there isn’t much we could have done – other than what we ended up doing…working impossibly long hours and putting more writers on the job. To their credit, the company was grateful, positive, helpful, and equally dedicated to meeting the deadline. They did not play a “blame game” – but put all their resources into helping us complete the project – not by the desired deadline specified during our first meeting, but what could be likened to the final red line.

We made the deadline and delivered the project. To learn something from this however, we go to Part 3: Don’t underestimate the importance of estimating.