Need someone to lead product management at your software company? I create software for people that create software and I'm looking for my next opportunity. Check out my resume and get in touch.

Assumptions and project planning

Freshness Warning
This blog post is over 5 years old. It's possible that the information you read below isn't current and the links no longer work.

When your assumptions change, it’s reasonable that your project plans and needs change as well. But too many managers are afraid to go back and re-work a plan that they’ve already agreed to.

A manager received a large project that was crucial to the success of the company. Shortly thereafter all the managers then went through a company-wide planning exercise to determine staffing and budget needs for the coming year. He devised a budget and agreed to a plan with his managers and peers.

The manager felt confident in his projections and requests. Then, a few weeks later, once the team had started building the product features, he started to realize that there was a lot more work than he’d anticipated. He could still get the project done in the desired time frame, but he’d need more people to pull it off.

How to communicate this back to the company? You’ve agreed to a big plan and a budget, then a few short weeks later you come back and say you were wrong. Won’t that look like you’re bad at planning?

Especially in the early stages of a project, software development requires making a lot of assumptions. You think the existing production infrastructure will be enough. You expect a certain level of usage and strain on the system. You believe the algorithms you’ll need are like ones you built two years ago. The user authentication model will support this with only a few safe modifications. We can probably re-use most of the data model we created for the previous product. Your estimates for a budget, scope, and delivery dates all rest on these assumptions.

Once you actually start working on the project, you’re going to find out that your assumptions were wrong. Every time. But most of the time, the degree to which they are wrong isn’t a big deal. You might have even assumed something was a lot more complex and difficult than it turned out to be.

In this case, the team was integrating its software with various third-party systems. Because all the systems do roughly the same thing, it the team assumed that the implementation would be largely re-usable between vendors. This assumption was wrong. The result was that there was a tremendous amount of repetitive work required to implement each system. The team did not expect the amount of technical analysis, testing, debugging, monitoring, and general vendor management.

The assumptions were wrong, so the estimates and budgets were wrong. This is something that the company leadership should understand. The manager should go back to the company leaders and show the assumptions and the issues with them, then negotiate an increased budget, a reduced scope, or an extended timeline.

What a lot of managers will do instead is try and make the original plan work, even though the basis of the plan bad data. Rather than worry that you’ll look silly by raising issues so soon, realize that the rest of the company needs forewarning, not perfection. It’s better to give bad news now and avoid surprises than it is to give bad news later when it’s too late to do anything about it.

Recently Written

Great prodct managers own the outcomes (May 14)
Being a product manager means never having to say, "that's not my job."
Too Big To Fail (Apr 9)
When a company piles resources on a new product idea, it doesn't have room to fail. That keeps it from succeeding.
Go small (Apr 4)
The strengths of a large organization are the opposite of what makes innovation work. Starting something new requires that you start with a small team.
Start with a Belief (Apr 1)
You can't use data to build products unless you start with a hypothesis.
Mastery doesn’t come from perfect planning (Dec 21)
In a ceramics class, one group focused on a single perfect dish, while another made many with no quality focus. The result? A lesson in the value of practice over perfection.
The Dark Side of Input Metrics (Nov 27)
Using input metrics in the wrong way can cause unexpected behaviors, stifled creativity, and micromanagement.
Reframe How You Think About Users of your Internal Platform (Nov 13)
Changing from "Customers" to "Partners" will give you a better perspective on internal product development.
Measuring Feature success (Oct 17)
You're building features to solve problems. If you don't know what success looks like, how did you decide on that feature at all?

Older...

What I'm Reading

Contact

Adam Kalsey

+1 916 600 2497

Resume

Public Key

© 1999-2024 Adam Kalsey.