The Lost Cause

Lost Cause

The Lost Cause

Generally, it is a common practice for Project Managers to go along with any project assigned to them. Saying “No” to any project assignment is considered as a sin for the Project Manager but for me, it is totally opposite. I think that turning down any project, based on valid factual and logical reasons, is something of a brave and professional thing that a Project Manager should do.

I was once assigned a project which looked pretty simple to start with and was a fixed cost project with a 4 months delivery timeline.  The scope also seemed to be quite well-defined as per feedback form the client and our organization’s sales team. The technologies to be used were clearly defined and the team size was planned for 6 persons. Everything looked straight forward. 

As the Business Analyst, along with an Architect and the Project Manager (myself), started on the Requirement Analysis phase and as a result formed the Requirement Specification Document (RSD) and Project Schedule based on the scope and effort estimates. The facts from the resulting artifacts were totally different from the understanding at the start of the project. 

Originally, it was estimated to be a project requiring effort of around 1000 man hours but what we calculated was 4000 man hours. The fact was clear that there was a clear mistake in understanding the scope and calculating the effort required at the time of the sales process and both sides were equally responsible for that. 

There was no way we could have completed the project in 4 months with the same number of resources. The 4 months timeline was also very critical for the customer as they had planned an important large scale launch based on this project. The delay would mean they will miss on a substantial opportunity. 

The only way to complete this project was to put 4 times more resources on the project and that means increasing the cost in the same proportion. As I mentioned earlier that it was a fixed cost project so increasing the budget was almost out of question. 

I prepared a report summarizing the facts of the project and shared it with my organization’s top management. I simply mentioned that as a Project Manager, I cannot continue this project because the realistic timeline is much more than the date accepted by the customer. I also mentioned that the costing and the effort estimation exercises were not executed properly at the time of the sales process. The only way I can continue on this project was if my organization’s management decided to invest the surplus cost to make up for the mistake made by the sales team. 

The management carefully reviewed my report and agreed to my point of view regarding this project. The project was closed on whatever terms and conditions, including the penalty the two parties had agreed in the contract. The cost of effort on the project and the penalty etc. was much lesser than the cost we had to bear to go through this project and still there was a risk of it missing customer’s targets.

It was one of those rare occasions when a project manager declined a project. To my surprise, it was made a use case, as part of the lesson learned, appreciating my efforts and strategy. This project made an example for all the Project Managers that they should say “No” when it is due and is the right thing to do. 

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