Should planning the project be tasks that are included in the project?  I think most of us would say yes.  I know I think so and that’s how I create the schedule. The problem many of us encounter – at least it has often been my experience – is the process of Sales closing the deal with the customer without project management input and then handing it off to project management to execute.

While that sounds good, the problem is that Sales often thinks the process they went through to gather very high-level requirements, draft a very high-level schedule, and put together a customer quote – i.e. final price – is all the planning that is needed.  In reality, the planning has just begun….

Prior to starting the project

When a project is handed to you in this way, you are immediately behind before you even start.  The tasks involved with planning for the project, preparing for kickoff, exploring the statement of work (SOW) in detail, and gathering your team takes time.  However, Sales has failed to put adequate – if any – time into the estimate and original draft schedule for these crucial activities.  Skip them and you’ll end up with inadequate upfront planning which will likely lead to significant project problems and scope creep later in the engagement.  Perform them and you’ll be over time and over budget right from the start and your customer will start to see that … and they’ll start to be very concerned … right from the start.  Behind the eight ball immediately.  Ouch!

Resetting expectations

While change orders are scary things to bring up with the customer – especially on Day One of the project, you must, as the project manager, begin to reset expectations as quickly as possible.

However, before you do this, first re-draft the schedule and discuss in detail both with whatever parts of your team you’ve already assembled, and your PMO Director, or other leadership.  You should also meet with Sales and discuss with the account manager who closed the deal.  The reason for this is two-fold.  First you want to help ensure this never happens again.  Second, you want to gain any potential insight into the quirks of this particular customer so you go into a customer discussion with an idea of how they’re going to react to the news of the need to add in some planning time … and cost.

Breaking it to the customer

Once you’ve re-drafted the schedule with planning time added in – its time to set up a meeting with the customer.  Don’t over-do the estimate – it’s not in your best interest to be overly pessimistic or perform any padding as you’re likely to upset the customer anyway.  But you need to go into the meeting with ballpark numbers in terms of additional costs and stretched timeframe for the project.  And you’re likely going to have to mention the ‘c’ word.  Change order.  If they don’t ask for your head on a platter then you’ve possibly earned their respect by identifying this need as early as possible and bringing it straight to them for acceptance.  Some customers are like that … some aren’t.  But it has to be done.

Call for input

Readers – what are your thoughts on this?  Have you been stuck in this position with the client?  Please share and discuss.


Photo credit to: Zacha Rosen