Real World PM Stories - Unrealistic Project Expectations

Project Management - Expectations vs. Reality


In this week's post we continue our series on "Real Life PM Stories".  This series reflects real world project management experiences.  If you have a good real world PM story, share it in the comments section.  


The Situation

In the late 90’s I was working for a New York City based firm that specialized in technology for financial services firms.  The firm was contracted by a Boston bank to do an initial analysis and quote for the replacement of the firm’s general ledger system.  In the days leading up to the project kick-off, our project manager was stuck overseas with some kind of immigration problem.  The firm requested that I manage the initial requirements project which was planned to last six weeks.  The project consisted of creating a full set of Unified Model Language (UML) artifacts that would completely document every aspect of the firm that touched the general ledger.

While I was very happy living in New Jersey and commuting to New York City every day, I was eager to be a team player and subsequently agreed to work out of hotel in Boston for the next six weeks.  We had a team of six resources, ranging from banking experts to enterprise architects, to UML experts.

Toil, Toil, Boil, and Bubble

The project started out smoothly.  Our daily schedule (and this is important) was as follows:

8:00 AM Roughly 20 business representatives joined us in a meeting to review the documentation from the previous day’s meetings

10:00 AM Begin requirements gathering sessions with various business sponsors

12:00 Noon – Break for lunch (brought in so that we could work through lunch)

5:00 PM Break from requirements gathering for 30 minute break

6:00 PM Travel to business location to see the existing real world operations (image processing, branches, check clearing, etc)..

7:00 PM Go out to dinner with client; our entire team, the participants in the day’s meetings, and project sponsorship team.  These dinners always included lots of drinking and food and were not optional.

9:00 PM Our team returned to banks corporate office to our war room(it was July, and the company shut off Air Conditioning at 6:00PM).  During this time our team would update corrected requirements from the morning review session, create new documentation from what we had heard in the day’s meetings, prepare for the next day’s requirement sessions, and produce paper updates of all artifacts for the next day’s meetings.

2:00 AM – Return to the hotel for some much needed sleep for the next day.

This daily grind was repeated every day for 4 weeks.  The results were astounding.  We were in effect documenting the entire business process of the bank’s operations, from the ground up, every nook and cranny.  The information we were able to gather was staggering.  We had found literally hundreds of ways to easily fix broken processes and procedures that would easily save the bank millions of dollars a year.

Client Rage.. it begins

I was very impressed with myself and my team.  We were firing on all cylinders; creating great work and our client seemed extremely happy with our results.  Our firm would surely be granted the general ledger replacement project, generating millions of dollars in revenue.  What else could a project manager ask for?

As I said, this was a six week project that was quickly expanded into a six month process improvement effort. About the fourth week of the project the client asks to speak to me privately during one of our breaks.  I was expecting “John – We have never seen such a productive effort.  Your team is kicking butt.  Nice Job!”.  That would not be the case.  We knew the client was hard charging, difficult to work with, unbending, and seriously pushing for a major promotion.  But what came next was completely unexpected.

Client: :”John, I am extremely disappointed with you.”

Me: “I don’t understand.  I thought we were doing great work?”

Client: “It’s not the work.  It’s you.”

Me: {huh} “What is the problem, I am sure we can resolve it.”

Client: “During your presentation of yesterday’s requirements, I notice the timestamp of the print date.  It said 2:32AM ! “

Me: “I don’t understand”

Client: “Why is your team working on this at 2:30 in the morning?”

Me: “We meet all day, do field visits at night, have dinner with the team, and then come back to the office for the four or five hours of work needed to prepare for the next day.”

Client: “That is unacceptable!”

Me:  “I am not sure I understand. Would you like us to change our work schedule, pace, or project timeline?”

Client: “I don’t want to get into that.  If I see that your team is working that late again you will have to answer to me”. { client storms off }

The Solution

I was beside myself.  The client loved the team and work product, but was enraged that we were working till the early morning every night.  There was no possible way to keep the pace up and deliver to the client’s daily schedule and not have my team work long hours.  It was an impossible demand.

For what it’s worth, my team did return to the office that night and work till 1:00AM.  After returning to the hotel I racked my brain on how to make the client happy.  We had not come this far only to get demerits for a technicality.

The solution, as it turns out, was ridiculously simple.  I had my team turn off the timestamps on the artifacts.  Every day when we presented the previous day’s updates, the timestamp was no longer visible to anyone in the room.  The client never raised the issue again.

We completed the six month effort, delivered our final presentation to their board and received a standing ovation for our work.  In the end the bank was purchased and the general ledger was never replaced, but the results of our analysis were implemented and our firm got excellent press for my team's outstanding work.

In Conclusion

I never did fully understand the client’s point and she was not the kind of client that explained herself.  The point is we found a simple way to overcome a ridiculous complaint.  It took almost no effort and a client crisis was averted.  The lesson learned is that sometimes clients can be difficult, maybe it has nothing to do with your team or its work maybe they have trouble at home, maybe they have an unknown axe to grind.  As project manager, it is important to look at these challenges with an open mind and be creative in solving them.  Remember, if the client is unhappy it is your job to find a solution!

Level 5 Partners offers mentoring and guidance to help organizations achieve these results. In addition we offer the vPMO, a completely integrated web based solution that can be used to implement the processes discussed in this blog entry.

Please be sure to check it out: Virtual Program Management Office (vPMO)

We love sharing our knowledge and information about our offerings. If you find the vPMO interesting, contact us for a free no obligation demonstration.

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