Project Success: It’s in the Details

Jul 14, 1997

One thing I have learned over the years is that how good something turns out depends on the sum total of many small decisions. Most of the time, as it relates to projects, it’s not one thing that miraculously makes something work; it’s how all the little details work together to create something good, something of value. Let’s look at some of the “details” related to a typical project produced by an A/E/P or environmental consulting firm and what impact these decisions can have on its ultimate success: How the firm handles its marketing: Believe it or not, marketing has a lot to do with the ultimate success of a project. Is the firm known as a leader serving a particular client group, or just another generic technical service provider? Has the firm made specific promotion efforts aimed at a targeted audience, or do they send out quarterly newsletters aimed at all market sectors simultaneously? Did the A/E/P or environmental firm call on the client first in a cold call, or did the client initiate the contact? Does everyone in the potential client organization know who the A/E/P or environmental firm is, or have they never heard of them? All of these issues, which seem minor to many firm principals, have a huge potential impact on the relationship with the client throughout the course of doing the job. And this impacts the project itself. What was the client selection process?: How is it that the A/E/P or environmental firm happens to want work from that specific client? Is it because they know the client has repeat business potential, a good reputation for how they treat their consultants, and a strong credit report? Or is the real truth that the A/E/P or environmental firm knows nothing at all about the client because they have done no due diligence whatsoever? It doesn’t take long to make a few phone calls and run a D&B on a client you’ve never worked for before, yet this small step can save all kinds of headaches down the road. How the sale was closed: Was the sale closed because someone made a promise that couldn’t be kept? Are the total project budget and schedule realistic? Are you planning to sell the job with one group of people and then produce it with another? Did the client hassle you over little details in the contract, a possible indicator of problems to come? Was the client unreasonable or stubborn during the negotiation? Was the client inaccessible, too busy to meet with you to ink the deal? How the sale is closed impacts the project’s success. Who is assigned to do the job as PM/PIC, along with the rest of the team: Did you give the job to the best people for that specific client and their specific needs, or did you assign who was available. Try running a race with the wrong horse— it’s hard to win like that! What’s in the project plan and kickoff: Was there any real thought or discussion devoted to what the client’s real needs and expectations are, and was every member of the project team part of this? Does every team member have access to the plan? Were the kickoff meeting minutes distributed promptly? What overall success criteria are you going to use to determine whether or not the job was a winner? Does every member of the team know these? These little things are critical to doing the job properly and doing it so you can make a profit! Project communications processes: Do you have a clear set of expectations and procedures to make sure the client and all members of the team know what’s going on throughout the job? We like a weekly project progress report, one that tells what you did, what you’re going to do, and one that addresses any other issues or concerns (lack of payment, lack of information, people who won’t return calls, etc.). Who will take the meeting minutes at every project meeting? How long will it take to get these minutes out and distributed? Who is on the distribution list? What’s the best way to get these minutes out to everyone? Communication processes— often taken for granted— may be one of the most important elements to the overall project’s success. Quality review: Is the project really reviewed by another set of experienced eyes, or is all of that a lie that you only say because you think you have to? Is there adequate time in the schedule for the review? Is the person or team that is supposed to review the job aware that they will have to do this, and do they know when they can expect to see the job and when it needs to be turned around? This stuff is critical to project success! Construction phase involvement: Who is assigned to do this? How will the client and the contractors perceive this person on the job? Has this person had any training about what to do in certain types of situations? If you have a separate CA staff, how will the lessons that they learned out in the field get back to the in-house design and production people? Project completion/start-up: Will someone from your firm be there on move-in or start-up day? If not, why not? Who, at a high level in the firm, is showing a continued interest in the client’s satisfaction? These things need to happen. Post-completion follow-up: Has anyone called or checked in with the client to make sure they are happy with their project, or is that something you are afraid to do? How do you know these calls ever get made? If they aren’t being made, what are you going to do about it? As you can see, many, many details have to be taken care of to create a successful project. Do them all and the outcome becomes much more certain. Take all of this for granted and you’ll probably suffer as a result. Originally published 7/14/1997

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