You start the planning, engage the client, begin to plan for kickoff and then find that the team you were promised won't be yours for a while. Now what?! Remember that feeling from grade school or high school or even in your professional life? That fear that you’d have a party or a gathering of some sort - or in the case of your professional life, a meeting - and you arrived but no one else came. Or maybe it even happened to you. Ouch. Now, think about a project. What if you were handed a project to lead and you started to plan out resources, verify that the budget you were given (or the price the project was sold for), and the timeline makes sense, and you begin to engage the customer and plan with them for the formal kickoff meeting… and then you find you have no project team. I had this happen. It isn’t pretty.
I looked over the statement of work (SOW), looked over the estimate, the major tasks, the milestone dates, the skill sets needed, all the assumptions, and began working on the risks - preliminarily prior to engaging the team and customer. I engaged the client. I started to prepare for a formal kickoff meeting and started to firm up dates for that as well as milestone dates on the project with the project client. I even had a preliminary rollout date for the end solution that the customer liked…. we were getting detailed. And then the bottom fell out as I was informed that we had no resources available at that time to fill the key roles that I need for the project. Damn! Now you tell me?!???
If you’ve had this happen to you, you can understand the extreme frustration. You were promised a team or partial team by ‘x’ date so you moved forward in the planning process, brought the customer into it and made some preliminary date commitments and project promises. Now you don’t even have a team, you don’t know when you will have a team and you somehow need to explain all of this to the project client who thinks you’re off getting the wheels of his project set in motion. What now? What do you do? Well, after dusting myself off and scraping away all of the disbelief, amazement at the stupidity of it all and wonderment of “what will my project client think of me now?” here is what I did…
Go to the source.
Go to the resource gatekeeper in your organization. Find out what went wrong. Not to start an argument….really. That’s not going to serve anyone well…no matter how bad you may want to. You need to find out why this happened, how to prevent this from happening to you or anyone else on another project in the future and then get a target date of when you will have your team. For me, it was going to be another four weeks. Really?!?
Never lie to the customer.
Now, take this information to the customer. Don’t lie and don’t make excuses. Explain that your organization is going through some growing pains and resources are in short supply right now and that it will be about one month before you can begin the project. Make sure that still works with them, because if it doesn’t you need to either go back to management and strongly demand resources now or possibly lose the project.
Rework the plan based on best info available.
Next, rework the plan / schedule based on the new resource information and whatever decisions you and your project customer came to in your followup discussion.
Regroup with the client.
Finally, regroup with the client and review the revised plan to make sure it works with them. Apologize a few more times and assure them that you will be “on it” and make sure to the best of your abilities that this does not happen again in four weeks or at any time during the project.
The bottom line is this - the customer is the important person or entity here and you’ve got to protect their interests, their project and their money. And you need to keep their confidence and satisfaction high. In this situation it isn’t easy, but the more communicative and honest you are, the more you’ll keep them on your side.