Have you ever had one of these handed to you? Basically, it starts out as what seems like a task, and then grows into a project after you’re already knee deep in it? I’m guessing many of us have – I know I have. I’m going to look at my mistakes on this ‘project’ and would love to hear your feedback. Since this was more than 10 years ago, I can safely say that I learned my lesson and thankfully history has not repeated itself. Oh, and it did end fairly successfully, but not without a decent amount of pain.

I was working for a major engineering and aviation company running projects primarily for internal customers and primarily web-based projects when I was handed something like this.  The organization had recently sold of an entire business unit to an external company and there were lots of issues surrounding the transition of remaining files, environmental date, proprietary drawings, etc.  My first problem was that I was told it was ‘x’ amount of data that still needed to be transitioned and I believed them.  One more thing I should mention – there was much contention over this whole process to the point that the purchasing organization was withholding $250k of the sale till after the completion of the entire transition.  Oh, and I was asked to get this done as soon as possible.  Not a date, just a concept.

Assuming too much

I started the project out by assuming too much. I took what information I was given, assumed it was all correct, and ran with it. As a project manager, the first thing I should have done – and the first thing I would do now – was to ask the tougher questions internally before ever going to the customer (here the customer means the external company that purchased the internal business unit).

  • I should have asked for more information about the legal issues surrounding the transition and data
  • I should have asked for and received an end target date up front (I did later get a fiscal year end date as the target for getting the $250k paid – which was the following September 30th date.  In all the project ended up lasting a year and I don’t think any of us thought it would go that long. Bad assumption and one that leads to me not even creating a project schedule.  Very bad idea … and one of the reasons that the project lasted for a year.

Taking the customer at face value

I’ve written several articles about the customer not really knowing what they wanted and it was probably never truer than on this project.  Every time I met with the customer, the list of data that they were requiring for the transition before they would agree to pay the $250k grew longer.  If I had originally ‘officially’ nailed down a statement of work and a true scope, then we could call this scope creep or better yet, a change order.  But I wrongly assumed up front that this was much simpler than it ended up being and in doing that we skipped creating any official statement of work and documenting any official project schedule or budget.  That’s how things get out of hand.  And I had no real ground to stand on when the customer kept extending the scope.

No project plan

As I’ve already mentioned, I can look back now and say it was a horrible mistake to not put together a project schedule and manage this whole thing like a real project.  I fully believe that I could finish the project much more successfully with a project schedule and scope statement in hand I could have done it in less than six months and for less than half the cost.

Don’t get me wrong, professionally I still looked good because I did eventually get it done, I did get the $250k by 9/30, and I did make people on both sides happy.  But it could have ended even better had I stuck to sound project management principles and recognized this entire thing as the project that it really was.

No budget for a project

No budget

This is basically the other side of the project schedule coin.  If I had put together a good project schedule, I could have forecasted a budget.  I really wasn’t given a budget to work with – it was much more important just to get the $250k eventually and to take care of the transition quickly enough to avoid the threatened legal action, which I did.  And one thing I’ve not mentioned before, I was the 2nd person to lead this effort.  The first was a developer and our company thought all that was needed was someone to burn a few CDs of data.  Hmmm….  Yes, that was part of it…but it was oh so much more than that.


In the end, this actually was a feather in my cap.  I received accolades for completing this project.  In fact, on two separate occasions since I’ve moved to Las Vegas I’ve been contacted by the external purchasing company and asked to consider coming back to the Midwest and work for them because they saw it as such a positive and successful experience.  However, as a project manager, I still look at it and see the things that I didn’t do right that made it run on for a year instead of taking less time and less money.  True lessons learned project for me.