Do you understand the project's "true objective"?

Building toward project success

True Story – Misunderstood Objectives

The background

Several years ago I was working for a consulting company that was hungry for revenue.  The exhaustive efforts of our sales team turned up a government project.  It turns out that the agency had a problem with keeping track of all its websites, content and site media.  They did not know what servers where delivering content to what sites and this was creating a major problem when content needed to be updated or removed.

Their solution was to put out an RFP to have all of their web properties “cataloged”.  My firm bid on and won the contract.  The bid price was north of $2 million dollars.

The Project as Proposed

We the vendor would hire 20 workers for a period of 6 months; these workers would visit every website and log every piece of content, every image, every URL for everything on their sites producing a paper report of their findings.

A Better Solution (one would think)

After we won the bid, I was not excited at the prospect of onboarding 20 temporary resources.  It also made no sense to me that as the client’s content would be constantly changing, the report would be out date the minute we produced it.

It just so happens that our firm had resources available that had very strong technical skills.  After conferring with some of our technology leads, we came up with a plan.  We could write a program that would spider all the sites and log EVERYTHING they found into a database.  Once everything was in a nice relational database, we could design reports to match any format the client wished. The “spider” tool could be run not just once, but anytime the client decided to re-spider the site.  The development team had it built in three days.

Being proud of what we had accomplished we waited a few weeks then contacted the client to inform them that we had a better solution. A solution that would fit their needs, cost a less, and could be used over and over again; Greatly exceeding their expectations!

The Outcome

When we communicated our “Genius” to the agency, fully expecting accolades and future work, we were astounded at their response.  They were furious!  As it turns out, they literally wanted 20 people pounding away for 6 months.  Why on earth would they want this?  What were they thinking?  How could the bureaucracy of our great nation be so out of touch?

The answer was quite simple really.  As it turns out, we had not fully understood their objectives.  We were told through the bid process that the objective was to catalog their sites.  But in reality they had not communicated all of their objectives. The money for the project had come from a “Work Stimulus” package.  One of their objectives was to spend money to stimulate jobs!  So using 2-3 guys for a week or two did not meet their true objective!

True Life Lesson: Make sure you understand a project’s true objectives

The lesson learned here is that the project manager should always endeavor to understand all of the project’s objectives, not just the obvious ones.  Stated project objectives are usually driven by business goals.  Hidden objectives frequently hold some kind of value for the project stakeholder. Hidden or misunderstood objectives take you down the wrong path toward making the client happy.

Examples of “Hidden” Objectives

  • If this project is successful, the project stakeholder will get promoted
  • If this project is successful, the project stakeholder might get a bigger budget
  • If this project is successful, the project stakeholder might get more headcount

Once we understood the client's real objective, we were able to execute the project as requested, which in turn made them very happy.  


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