TechRepublic columnist Tom Mochal receives dozens of e-mails each week from members with questions about project management problems. Mochal shares member questions and the answers he provides in a column each month. IT pros often tell TechRepublic that they receive the most insight when they learn about real-life situations that other IT pros are facing.
One thing that I run into often is add-on work once a project is complete. For instance, we had a project to build 50 advanced circuit boards for one of our customers. The project ended, but a few weeks later, another order came in for additional boards. We had to reopen the project because the customer wanted the work charged to the original accounting project. What is the best way to handle this situation?
Sometimes when you focus heavily on the project management discipline, it can be easy to forget that there is life after a project. In fact, if you look at the entire life cycle of a product from beginning to end, the project usually turns out to be only a small part of the process. In the IT world, only 10 percent of the life-cycle cost of an application is spent during the initial project. The other 90 percent is spent in support.
Your question involves a project to build circuit boards, but this same question could come from someone installing a phone system or building a customized Web site. The question has to do with how follow-up work is accomplished. Two scenarios come into play, which I'll discuss below.
Support refers to the products and services that are required to keep the original deliverables performing up to expectations. This usually includes fixing errors, answering questions, communicating status, responding to emergencies, etc.
In general, support is reactive. If the product is stable and meeting the business needs, there may not be much work required. Support exists indefinitely until the original product is retired or replaced. Support is also routine, in the sense that the work you do this week is pretty much the same as what you did last week and the same as what will be needed in three months.
Over time, additional work may be required to enhance a product to meet current business requirements. In fact, you will find that the work requires you to produce a set of unique deliverables, with a certain set of resources, within a certain budget. In other words, these are new projects.
Organizing the next project
In your situation, you completed an original project for 50 circuit boards and then you got a follow-up order. One option is to start a new project to complete this second order. The work can be defined, planned, and managed as a project. It is not as large as the first one, and it will not require the same level of planning, control, or management. But you can still structure this work as a small project.
The other option is to consider small pieces of work such as this to be part of the work your operations organization provides. In fact, at any given time, you may be handling small requests for additional circuit boards. If these requests are small enough, routine enough, and occur over time, they could easily fit into the operational model.
That said, you do not want to wait for the first follow-up order to figure out how you will structure the work. Usually, the general segregation of project and support work is defined at the organizational level. However, if that separation is not clear, the project team needs to define how the follow-up work will be handled.
Accounting project number vs. work project
Lastly, you said that the customer wanted to reopen the project from a billing perspective. We need to be clear on definitions here, since you are mixing the work project with the financial project.
From a work perspective, the first project is definitely complete. If a second project is started, it may be related to the first, but it is its own project. However, there may be another definition of a project from a financial perspective. You may be required to use the same financial project number for both the first and second project. But, even though the financial project is the same, from a work perspective, they are separate and distinct projects.
Project management veteran Tom Mochal is director of internal development at a software company in Atlanta. Most recently, he worked for the Coca-Cola Company, where he was responsible for deploying, training, and coaching the IS division on project-management and life-cycle skills. He's also worked for Eastman Kodak and Cap Gemini America and has developed a project-management methodology called TenStep.
Is the original team in charge of follow-up work?
Does responsibility for a project shift once the initial work is completed? Does your operations or support team take on new aspects of a project? Tell us how your company manages this fact of IT life.