In project management, that last 1% before you can say. “We’re really complete now… Honest!” can be a long leap from 99%. I’ve talked about the Ivory Snow project syndrome before where the project becomes almost instantly 99.4 percent complete and then stays there the rest of its life. That’s a condition that often happens in the heady heyday of the early phase of a project. There’s another more sinister scenario when you’re near the end.
As you approach the end of the project, everyone who is involved starts to get excited for several reasons. If you’re the client, you’re “new-car excited”; the kind of excitement you might experience the day before you get a new car. If you’re the project team, you’re “school’s out excited”; the kind of excitement you might experience the day before the school semester ends. If you’re the project sponsor or owner you’re “please let it be over excited”; the kind of excited you might experience at the completion of a long term paper.

Whatever your situation, moving into the last phase of the project is fraught with pitfalls. We’ve come to the end of a long development project ourselves this week with the completion of the latest version of TimeControl which now moves from the development/testing/documentation/packaging phase to the marketing/sales phase on Monday so I’m living this situation this week and here are a few observations of things to watch out for.

Living in tomorrow before today is complete

Regardless of what category of interested party you might be, the most likely pitfall is to start thinking about what you’ll be doing tomorrow after the project is finished. Our developers are all keen to know what’s next for them even though they should be focused on what they have to complete to get the product done. Our clients are all keen to see what is in the next version rather than making the current version work for them. Our sales staff are all the excited about selling the next version but are spending less time selling the existing version.

Keeping the staff in the here-and-now and focused on doing what they need to do now rather than what they may be doing tomorrow is critical and requires more and more effort as we get to the final few days of a project.

I’ve got one more good idea

Like everyone in the software industry, we constantly have input from multiple sources of new features. This is true for software but it’s also true for many industries. Whether you are making a building, a marketing plan or a new app, the project scope is a likely target for well-wishers. In the early days of a software project, adding one more tiny bit of scope has minimal impact but as you get closer to the end of the project tiny changes can multiply to massive delays. It’s a given that everyone looks at the project from their own perspective but whether it’s a client or a developer who thinks “I have a truly awesome idea! We can do it in almost no time at all!” The truth is likely harder to come by. In the last couple of weeks I’ve had to play the “bad cop” in the office saying “No, you can’t have that now. Or once “No, you have to take that back out” because the feature, awesome though it may be can’t be properly quality controlled, documented or reviewed for useability from the many aspects of the product that the feature might touch.

Being firm on scope is always a challenge but it is critical in the final 1% phase.

I just need to test the one tiny change I made

This is what caused all the issues with testing the Hubble Telescope. The thought was, if you test each part, then naturally when it goes together everything will work. Not so much. In our software project, we’ve had necessary changes to correct issues found in the QA phase or to adjust functionality for other needs. The pitfall is to think that you only made a tiny change to your piece of the project so of course only that will require testing. We’ve been doing end-to-end testing for all the changes we’ve made.

The desire to do whatever is fastest to complete the project after whatever change you’ve made will be enormous and must be resisted.

Stay the course

Everyone from the project manager to the sponsor to the client to the lowliest team member wants the project to be over so what you’ve got to make sure you do is keep the focus on completing the project properly until it’s done.

My old friend Tony used to say “It’s all hands to the pump” when the going got tough. We’d all laugh and dig in a little deeper to get the job done. It’s that kind of focus you’ll need to get through that last 1%.