Sunday, May 31, 2015

Something keeps coming up

This is a true story. The company name has been changed.

The vision

Acme Corporation is a successful business selling medium and large-scale business applications. Some executives had an idea for a new application. After further development of the idea, and approval of the business case, a project was started to create the new product.

The steering committee comprised three executives, all of whom had been involved in developing the business case. Senior management was very excited about the prospects for the new product.

Before starting the definition of functional requirements, the project manager interviewed the three executives on the steering committee individually, to determine what their vision was for the new software. Two of the executives agreed on a vision, but the VP Product Development had different thoughts. The project manager met with all three as a group, to try and achieve consensus. There were still significant differences.

In order to try and achieve consensus, the project manager and steering committee agreed it would help to meet with industry experts who could provide additional insight on high-level requirements.

Meeting the experts

Just as the first industry-expert meeting was about to begin, the VP Product Development apologized and explained that an emergency had just come up on another project and he would be unable to attend the session. The other two executives and the project manager continued the meeting with the industry expert.

The next industry-expert meeting was scheduled at a time convenient to the VP Product Development, to ensure he would be able to attend. Unfortunately, a last-minute urgent matter again prevented the VP Product Development from attending. He urged the others to go ahead without him.

At a follow-up meeting to discuss high-level requirements based on the feedback from the industry experts, the VP Product Development didn’t like the proposed product, and thought it wouldn’t sell. He was unable to stay at the meeting long enough or to attend follow-up sessions where further requirements and direction were developed. However, he didn’t want to hold back the team, and suggested they should forge ahead without him. He would review the more detailed requirements and early product prototypes.

Product development

The high-level requirements were not defined, development had not begun, yet the project was behind schedule already. All three members of the steering committee urged the project manager to get the project back on schedule. She should go ahead and develop more detailed specifications, based on the high-level requirements already developed.

In addition, the steering committee was worried about the lack of progress reported on product development, and urged the project manager to get the work started, using the high-level design. As the more detailed requirements were established, the development team would re-work their design as needed.

Project resources were gradually shifting. The database designer was moved to another project and replaced. The technical architect transferred to another division and was not replaced. Her work was assigned to another member of the project team. Some development staff were given additional high-priority work for another project by the VP Product Development.

A key component that was to be purchased and integrated into the new product was not approved for purchase. Instead, the development team built similar functions into the product.

On the market

As a result of the shifting requirements, related re-work, changing and lost resources, the development of the product was behind schedule. Since competitors were moving forward with their own products, the scope of the development plan was revised, eliminating some features in order to have a product ready for sale earlier. They could incorporate the removed features in a future release.

The first product was launched. No one bought it, as competing products were already established and were much more robust. The product was later dropped.


The failure of the product can easily be traced to its root cause. The product didn’t sell because it launched late with insufficient features. This lacklustre product was due to delays in development, as a result of resource gaps and re-assignments. These resource issues were due to the lack of commitment of the VP Product Development.

The signs of lack of commitment were evident starting from the two industry-expert meetings, where “something just came up” and prevented the executive’s attendance.

The project manager got caught up in a get-it-done mentality, focused on the hard deliverables needed to keep the project on schedule. As a result, she did not recognize the signals that her project was doomed to fail, no matter what she did.

Copyright 2015 Debbie Gallagher