IT Project Failure: Think Negative

Whilst it’s not the best mindset to have going into a project agreement, the initial “yes we can implement that change now and document it later” will inevitably cast doubt on your performance and competence should a dispute arise.

We often see in large commercial disputes (that have resulted in litigation) that the initial excitement of a new project and the need to build a friendly working environment from the offset often affects the formalities that are contractually necessary in the long run.

After requirements gathering and gap analysis in the early stages of a project, more often than not the client may request additional functionality or a change to agreed processes and design. In an effort to give the client what they want, suppliers frequently accede to requests for changes without the formality of a change control note and often with no cost or timescale tariff. However small these changes are their effects cumulatively can be significant resulting in time and cost overruns. Furthermore, when projects reach critical points such as milestones or gateways and pressure builds, the “generosity” shown in the early phases is often forgotten and suppliers can face criticism or even penalties with little or no recourse because the necessary documentation of change is absent.

Worse still when a programme actually falls into delay or a client invokes a contract default procedure as a precursor to an action for breach of contract, it is the supplier who, with their initial good intentions, effectively ends up looking incompetent and under-performing.

When we are called in as experts to review the programme issues and/or to conduct delay analysis, more often than not we identify that, from a contractual viewpoint, the supplier is the cause of delay. However, analysis of non-contractual correspondence and specification developments (“scope creep”) often reveals that initial planning, budget forecasting and project assumptions were sound. The principal reason for delay and, in T&M implementations, for disputes over billing levels can often be traced back to undocumented and poorly assessed changes to requirements in the early stages of a project.

Had simple impact/risk analysis been carried out on each and every identifiable change request, then the client could (and should) have been notified through formal channels that whilst the change can be implemented, there may be additional consequences from implementing it since it represents a change from what was initially agreed. This impact analysis notification then places less attribution on the supplier in terms of delay accountability.

Tips: How to be assertive yet amicable:

  • Address the issue of change documentation by affirming it is why you are good at what you do – because you follow procedure.
  • Maintain that in order to deliver what is required, it is paramount that resource allocation and cost be reported accurately – therefore all changes need to be documented for that simple fact – not just because everyone needs more paperwork!
  • Encourage the client to understand that getting change and its impact documented on paper, before it is implemented often highlights whether it is indeed a necessary change, or more of a “nice to have”.
  • If all else fails, pull out the big guns, smile sweetly whilst saying that you’re ‘just doing your job’.