You Can Only Go to the Well Once

The project leads must take responsibility for avoiding schedule overrunOur project was off the rails. It was partly our fault, partly the client’s.

These were the days when project management methodologies were still maturing. Our documentation of contributing factors was incomplete or non-existent. Clearly, there was scope creep that had not been kept in check or had not been documented in change requests.

My boss called me and the other leads into the conference room. He was not happy. None of us would be leaving the room until we had assessed what went wrong and how to fix it.

And what the additional cost would be to finish the project.

The client had scheduled a meeting with him the following week. Depending on his assessment and explanation, they would review their options on how best to continue. They might insist that the schedule overrun was completely our responsibility and our contract required us to complete the project, even at a loss. Or, they might accept partial responsibility and split the cost of the overrun with our firm. Or, they might terminate the contract. It was doubtful that they would accept total liability and fund the overrun completely.

My boss decided that his best course of action was to lay the problem out as clearly as possible. He would be transparent about our shortcomings AND the client team’s lack of regard for scope or deadlines. He figured he had nothing to lose by requesting additional funding to finish the project.

We were to document all the issues that caused the schedule slippage. This was to include every additional scope item that the client team had requested (and that we had allowed without requiring a change request). We were to document every late deliverable and the reasons for missing the deadlines – our culpability and theirs.

Additionally, he requested that we list what we would do differently to prevent further slippage (assuming that the client agreed to continue on with the project).

And finally, we were to calculate the true cost of the schedule overrun and the new date to complete the project. No underestimates. No embellishment.

He then said these words that have stayed with me throughout my entire career, “We can only go to the well once.”

My boss felt that with full transparency and a solid plan to complete the project, the client would be lenient. They may even agree to share in the additional cost.

It was worth a shot. Just remember, you can only go to the well once.

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