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A $1-million lesson on why communication in projects is critical (well, almost!)

Three faces talking to each other

This is the story of how I almost cost my company a million-dollar contract simply by not communicating effectively with my project team.

We were building a mobile app that would save one of our customers a significant amount of time. It was critical that the app was delivered by the agreed due date. We were coming up to contract renewal, which hinged on delivery of the app – and it working. The deadline was tight – eight weeks from start to finish.

I’d set the design team the task of getting this app designed. I gave them, what I thought, was a detailed design brief that included the deadline, the devices it would work on, orientation, functionality, etc. and left them to it.

This was my first mistake – I assumed the design team would follow a good design methodology and speak up at certain points in the process. Except, I didn’t tell them this is what I expected. During our stand-up meetings the design team told us everything was going to plan.

Time flies and the developers are getting on with their work on the back-end of the app. With five weeks to go, the designer doing the work goes on leave and hands over a single mock-up of one page of the app to the development team. Suddenly the question is – what the heck? Where are the wireframes, flow diagrams and other associated information that would allow the development team to continue working?

This was my second mistake – I hadn’t spoken to the designer before they went on leave to get an update on progress or find out where the designs were stored.

One week later, on the designer’s return, I ask for a meeting to discuss progress and why things weren’t where they needed to be. This is where I was in for a rather nasty shock.

Rather than handing over a flow diagram for the app and wireframes for multiple devices in multiple orientations I had a designer showing me the same item that was left with the development team!

When I asked what the heck? I was told – “you didn’t tell me what the deadline was, what the thing was to look like or anything”. When I pointed out everything was in the design brief, I was told I should have been more explicit. Do you know what? They were right! That was my third mistake.

We ended up going back to the beginning; re-read the design brief and highlighted all of the key information, brainstormed the flow chart and then built the wireframes for user testing. We managed to pull this off in less than a week, which gave us two days for actual user testing and final designs before we had to hand over the prototypes to the development team.

During this time we stayed in constant contact with the developers to make sure they would be ready when we (finally) had our ducks in a row. I wasn’t going to make the mistake of not communicating again!

We were able to hand everything over on time, after a few very late nights/early mornings and lots of coffee! Which gave the developers the time they needed to get everything implemented and tested.

The good news was we delivered a working app to the customer on time and they were very happy with it.

I also learned a valuable lesson – communicate regularly with your team using a variety of methods, even if they are not communicating with you!

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