A few months ago I was asked to estimate the staffing and the time needed for a proposed new project. I estimated it as needing 10 staff over 5 years. A co-worker estimated the project as needing 7 staff over 9 months. Management decided to go with the 9 month estimate.
A project manager was appointed who had a huge reputation within the company, having successfully guided many projects to completion. He was totally on-board with the 9 month estimate and promised that it would be complete within 9 months.
I was brought on board as an internal consultant at 0.1, but spend 90% of my time on my old project. The work was broken down and an extremely detailed schedule was produced. I pointed out that a component that had been estimated as taking 8 hours actually had 200 features requiring the engineers to complete a feature every 2.4 minutes. They re-estimated it as 80 hours which is still too low. However the total estimate of the project never changed. Every time I pointed to a problem area they would reduce their estimates on the areas I wasn't complaining about so that the total stayed the same.
The senior manager asked me into his office and asked me whether I thought the schedule was unrealistic. I told him the extra staff had already been hired, the equipment bought and suggested a 6 week trial to get a clearer idea on a realistic schedule and that after the 6 week trial we should reevaluate the project. The project managers schedule said that the first module would be completed at the 4 week mark.
At six weeks the first module hadn't been finished. The first sub-module, the first sub-sub-sub-module hadn't been completed. Not a single feature had been finished.
I talked to project manager. I asked the project manager about the progress of the project. He said the team had produced a lot of work. I pointed out that the methodology that the company used did not count partially completed work and if you calculated the projected completion date the way you were proposed to calculate it the result came out as never. He said that things were more complicated than that and that the project was actually on track. I asked what he was basing that on. He said that he was basing it on his many years of experience.
I talked to the senior manager and pointed out that we were going reevaluate the project after 6 weeks. He said there was no need as the project manager had assured him that the project was on track.
Now I am kicking myself. I should have just told the senior manager that the project managers schedule was delusional fantasy and that he should cancel the project straight away. Why did I have to wimp out? The 6 week trial seemed like a sensible idea at the time, however it was clearly a mistake.
Its now 10 weeks and the team still hasn't completed a single feature. Even if I bend the rules beyond breaking point in the teams favor saying that they had completed 5% of the module that they were supposed to have finished 6 weeks ago is generous. The project is clearly doomed. The project manager still says that they are on track.
Options going forward are
- Build relationships and trust to increase influence
- However the problem seems to be that my views are inconvenient
- Build more evidence
- However the existing evidence is clear
- Just talk to the senior manager
- However the project manager has a god-like reputation
- Just talk to the project manager
- However when I started listing the things that need to be completed for the project to succeed he exploded in anger, yelling that this must be the largest most complicated project in the world. He made it clear that he thought my views were completely unrealistic.
- Talk to the team and build consensus
- However the team are all new hires and they put down their lack of progress to teething problems
- Pull some brilliant idea out of my butt
- However I seem to be short of those
- Distance myself from the project and just concentrate on my main
- However that feels unprofessional.
- Ask 'The Workplace' if anyone has any better ideas
One thing I worry about is learning the wrong lesson from this. A cat who sits on a hot stove will not sit on a hot stove again, however they will not sit on a cold stove either. Obviously I am going to be nervous about proposing a spike or a trial period again. However looking back there were little signs and indications that my managers were not interested in evidence based engineering. The real lesson is probably that I need to know my audience. That and I need to be more vocal and assertive.
So my questions are what should I do now? and The next time this happens what should I do differently?