We’re not building a nuclear submarine

I’ve worked in an enterprise alongside a development team building a new platform for processing home loans. When I started I saw the project schedule – to be released within about two months. About three years later, a first version with 50% functionality got released.

The premise for the project was simple enough, and that was to speed up and automate the processing of home loans for quicker and more accurate approvals.  The underlying process was established in the existing system, and on the face of it seemed like an easy win for the development team.

So what went wrong?  From the sideline, I could see a few obvious problems:

  • The project was setup for a complete replacement, and not chunked up into modular parts.
  • The specification by the business analysts was detailed, perhaps too detailed.
  • The scope was changed multiple times during the project.
  • Project management was lax or at times non-existant.

Frustrated with the project, the business owner several times exclaimed “we’re not building a nuclear submarine!”.

Although this was a development project, it can be very easy for similar problems to occur on any type of IT project that you may embark on.  So what can we learn from this?

  1. Define your requirements clearly and succinctly.
    It isn’t necessary to go into minute detail, and perhaps use some agile methods, particularly for software development.
  2. Break the project into well defined deliverables.
    The adage deliver early and deliver often holds true in some respects.  This should also help stabalise a technology platform and hopefully deliver results that are immediately visible.
  3. Ensure there is a project manager and they are up to the task.
    The project manager should have regular updates on progress, assist with any roadblocks.  They are also required to put the brakes on scope changes, and keep the business abreast of the development efforts.

While this is only one example, its always a good idea to do a reality check with the stakeholders through the project.  This is to ensure expectations are clearly set.  Also makes for a happy client.

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