A series of articles on prerequisites for success in IT projects continues. Previous articles discussed the importance of transparency and honesty, a genuine desire to help the customer, skilled team members and continuous development of competence – now the penultimate discusses realistic expectations of the pace of progress. 

My colleague at Compile recalled a story of the past summer, which illustrates the importance of the subject.

It was a discussion during the sales stage about launching a possible new project. The customer had a tool in use that was coming to an end of its life cycle. There had been a failed attempt to replace the product in question with a new solution in the past, so there was a certain amount of reservation about the expectations. Considering the past, it was easy to understand that the customer expected to hear convincing speeches that didn’t include uncertainty. 

However, the truth was that the customer’s operating environment and system field were largely new to us, and we had no complete understanding of what we were going to come across as the project progressed. The customer had thought about a schedule of 2–3 months for the first phase of the project, which sounded very unrealistic considering the starting point. However, we had a lot of experience with similar projects, and based on these, we estimated that the workload would realistically be double or triple. Therefore, we did not believe we had any chance of meeting the customer’s expectations with regard to the schedule.

From a sales point of view, someone would probably have thought that it was not worth pointing this out yet, and it would be more profitable to launch a project and let the truth come out later. However, we immediately notified the customer that this is commonly the starting point for many failed projects, and that is not what we want, albeit at the risk of the customer withdrawing from the negotiations.  Fortunately, however, this did not happen, and we had a good discussion with the customer about the factors that could influence the progress of the project and what we would be able to do and on what schedule. Honesty, transparency and realism led us to the sign the agreement. 

Trust between the customer and the supplier increases when we are honest about matters – this should not be a surprise to anyone as such. However, overselling sometimes occurs due to sales pressure and it can easily lead to project failure, customer dissatisfaction, and increased stress levels for consultants and other team members working on the project. No one wants to be caught up in a project in which the objectives are, in principle, unrealistically ambitious and the probability that the promise can be kept is low. Lack of realism is rarely a motivating factor, and the well-being of team members should never be consciously risked.

The last part of the series of articles discusses the importance of mutual support among members of the organisation for the success of IT projects.