If you’ve ever managed a large digital transformation project, you know that there is the potential for a lot to go wrong. Transformational IT projects are so prone to failure that there is no shortage of IT disaster stories to learn from. Sometimes, even our everyday lives can teach us lessons that can be applied to managing IT projects, as I was reminded of recently when I realized it was time to replenish our supply of firewood for the winter.
My previous supplier went out of business, so I Googled “firewood in our area,” came up with a few viable alternatives and made one phone call. They said they could deliver it “next day” so even though the price was a little more than we paid in the past, I didn’t bother looking for cheaper alternatives. Everything was going smoothly, and then this happened:
Yes, they delivered, but their definition of delivery and mine were clearly different. When I pointed to the area of the garage where my previous supplier would leave the wood looking nice and tidy, the driver promptly informed me, “We don’t stack!” This left me with something of a dilemma since I had planned on letting them stack the wood while I continued working.
In the end, the 45 minutes this inconvenience took from my day was not that big of a deal, but as I was stacking up the wood, it struck me that there were some lessons from this experience that you need to think about when evaluating proposals for digital transformation projects.
Scope: Make sure you know what is being delivered…literally.
When I was arranging the firewood delivery, he was talking about cords (e.g., 1/3 cords, ½ cords). I couldn’t remember how much we had delivered last time, although the ½ cord sounded familiar. Nevertheless, I asked him to translate to “feet” and quickly realized that 1/3 of a cord was what we needed. If I had just gone with what sounded right, there would still be wood sitting in my driveway…along with my wife’s car.
Clarification was needed and asking questions helped me avoid an even bigger inconvenience. So, when talking to your SIs about scope, remember that jargon and “high-level estimates” are not your friend. To be sure you get what you need, don’t be afraid to ask questions and get specific.
Services – Will they meet your needs?
While I ended up getting exactly what I needed (scope), the how (services) was clearly not as expected. Again, specificity around assumptions and definitions is critical when evaluating SI proposals. The last thing you want to discover is that “test scripts” are not included in your SI’s definition of testing support.
Participation – Who is responsible for what?
I quickly found out that my participation in the firewood delivery process was unavoidable, and fortunately for me it was only a minor inconvenience. On a digital transformation project, though, discovering that you are understaffed is more likely to result in an expensive change order than a mere 45-minute delay.
Staffing Mix – Understand the tradeoffs.
In the final analysis, I didn’t have to stack the wood myself. I could have gone a couple of doors down and paid the neighbor’s kids $20 to stack it for me. That way I could have gone back to work while they stacked everything up precisely the way I wanted…on second thought, I would have ended up paying them while I supervised, making this the most expensive AND the least efficient option.
Alternatively, I could have waited for my son to get home from work and enlisted his help. We certainly would have been more productive, but I would have had to wait until he was available. In short, there are always multiple options for deciding how to staff any project, but they all come with tradeoffs. Make sure you understand them up front so that you can weigh the risks accordingly.
Commercials – Do your homework.
I only made one call. This may not be a fatal strategic error when procuring firewood, but when you are talking about a digital transformation, you need to do your homework. This will position you to get the best price, the most favorable terms, and ensure that the end result meets your expectations.
On the plus side, I don’t have to deal with firewood again for the foreseeable future, and I’ll know to make a couple more calls next time. It might very well be that no one is willing to stack firewood for you, but you never know until you ask.
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