The Everest Method – How Clients, Project Managers, and Delivery Resources can ensure project success

While sitting and preparing T4s for my company a short while ago, I got quite distracted and ended up following some links through to The Shared Services Canada website, specifically a publication on “What prevents large IT projects from being successful?

The article synthesizes a large amount of very valid points from separate project audits, but specifically does not mention “clients not understanding their own needs.”  This is especially disconcerting as technology projects start to expose more and more of the art of the possible to organizations.

In my experience, some service providers or internal IT departments will respond to uncertainty by tightly scoping what is to be delivered; whereas others will propose what the client seems to want and then submit multiple change orders along the process.  Some service providers may further turn to Agile product management, employing a “show early, show often” tactic (often with limited success based on the usual hard financial and schedule metrics of project – source 1 source 2 source 3 – but increased quality/user satisfaction success – source 1 source 2 source 3) to encourage clients to not focus on the cost, but rather the quality, of the product.

Regardless of the approach, the onus is not only on the external service provider to ensure project success (cost, quality, and schedule), but is on the owning organization as well.  So for organizations that are used to the design-build process, how can they successfully engage external service providers?

Many years ago, during one of the proposals that I worked, a client engaged us through what they called “the Everest Method”. The Everest Method is when the client and service provider sit in a room together and basically build the RFP and response to the RFP together.  Some may recognize this approach as Joint Application Development/Design (JAD).  Like JAD, the Everest Method only allows direct clients and delivery resources at the table.  Project Sponsors are invited to sit at the table to keep things under control insofar as major scope creep is concerned.  Project Managers are invited to facilitate the discussion process, and help both the client and delivery resource articulate what the deliverables will be.  While Contracts and Sales representatives from organizations are important to process, they are are excluded from these discussions to avoid proposing organizations being overly cautious or zealous.  When doing this, there are no surprises as to what is being asked, or what will be delivered.

There are 3 steps – not all of them easy – for to working through the Everest Method:

1. Set Expectations internally for how you, as the owning organization, will be engaging an external service provider
2. Prequalify vendors based on the resumes of the proposed Delivery Resources, supporting Project Team, and Project Manager
3. Ensure that each session has a defined deliverable that is being completed

Unsurprisingly, when expectations clearly understood at the outset of the process, including the delivery approach to a sustaining, disruptive, or transformational technology project, the definition of success is one that is commonly understood and agreed upon. More concisely, this approach assuages the notion that expectations are resentments in the making.

I actively encourage this method when I am helping a client manage their own RFP process.

Have you, as an owning organization, taken a different approach to engaging service providers?  What non-standard techniques have helped you ensure that both your service provider is successful and that your organization receives exactly what it needs?

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About Jason H Zalmanowitz
I am a nerdy Management Consultant / Project Manager with a MBA, have spent the majority of my career working for consulting firms in Calgary, and I race in triathlons because of (and thanks to) my wife. As a Project Manager, I have managed field implementations, strategy development projects, software development projects, and hardware implementation projects. As a consultant, I have helped companies articulate how and why they are going to implement and interact with sustaining technology to support their business.

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