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The Six Phases Of Project Management – Definition Phase – The Importance of Involving Users (#4 in the Hut Project Management Handbook)
By Wouter Baars

During the definition phase of a project that involved developing a web application for a consortium of large organisations, no agreements were made concerning the browser that would be supported by the application. The consortium assumed that it would be Microsoft Explorer, because it was the browser that ‘everyone’ used. The programmers created the application in Firefox, because they worked with the browser themselves and because it had a number of functions that were particularly useful during the development. Because most of the websites that are made for Firefox also look good in Explorer, the difference was initially not noticeable. Near the end of the project, however, the customer began to complain that the website ‘didn’t look good’. The programmers, who had been opening the site in Firefox, did not understand the complaint.

When the problem of the two browsers became clear, the programmers reacted defensively, ‘Can’t they just install Firefox? After all, it is free’. The organisations, however, were bound to the bureaucratic-minded system administrators who, for some possibly justified reason, refused to install Firefox in addition to Explorer.

Even if they had wanted to install it, it would have involved a lengthy process, and there would have been extra costs for the time that the system administrators would have to spend on the task. It was ultimately decided that the application would have to be made suitable for Explorer. That involved considerable extra work, whereby the project ran even more behind schedule than it already had, and it was necessary to negotiate the extra costs. It was later discovered that the various organisations were working with different versions of Microsoft Explorer.

It is very important that all parties that are involved in the project are able to collaborate during the definition phase, particularly the end users who will be using the project result. The fact that end users are often not the ones that order the project perhaps explains why they are often ignored. The client, who pays for the project, is indeed invited to collaborate on the requirements during the definition phase. Nonetheless, the project result benefits when its future users are also invited. As a point of departure, it is helpful to make a habit of organising meetings with all concerned parties during the definition phase of a project.

The result of the definition phase is a list of requirements from the various parties who are involved in the project. Every requirement obviously has a reverse side.

The more elaborate the project becomes, the more time and money it will cost. In addition, some requirements may conflict with others. New copy machines are supposed to have less environmental impact; they must also meet requirements for fire safety. The fire-safety regulations require the use of flame-retardant materials, which are less environmentally friendly. As this illustration shows, some requirements must be negotiated.

Ultimately, a list of definitive requirements is developed and presented for the approval of the project’s decision-makers. Once the list has been approved, the design phase can begin. At the close of the definition phase, most of the agreements between the customer and the project team have been established.

The list of requirements specifies the guidelines that the project must adhere to. The project team is evaluated according to this list. After the definition phase, therefore, the customer can add no new requirements.

Next in the Hut Project Management Handbook:

The Six Phases Of Project Management – Design Phase

Previously in the Hut Project Management Handbook:

The Six Phases Of Project Management – Definition Phase

Wouter Baars has a Master of Science degree in Industrial Engineering and Management Science. He has been a project manager for several years for The European commission, Waag Society, KPN (Dutch telecom provider) and many smaller organizations. He is specialized in creative projects such as serious game development, e-learning and software development. Currently he is teaching project management and coaching organizations that are working on their project management. More info on his work: www.projectmanagement-training.net.

Originally published by DANS – Data Archiving and Networked Services – The Hague

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