As custom software integrators we work on a lot of projects. Sometimes projects come from referals by way of 'stakeholder desperation'. These are projects on the verge of failure because someone 'burned' someone else. More often than not both parties walked down the same road together. The primary issue is that although the project seemed to be defined appropriately it is usually far, far from adequately scoped for success.
Take this image for example:
This is a 'mockup' or screenshot typically used to communicate the needs of the project from one party to another.
Everything is neatly arranged, notes are given and the UI looks pretty self explanatory.
This should serve as a clear blueprint to what the cost of project should be right?
Sometimes there are perhaps two or three more supporting mockups to show inner-page or sub-page or whatever term the project owner uses. Those two extra pages should (in the clients' mind) eliminate any questions on how the website will respond to user interaction.
- Issue #1: The client is 'expecting' Microsoft Outlook.. all of it.. I mean there is clearly a link to calendar, and tasks and contacts.
There is also likely the casual mention of a 'calendering engine' and a 'contact system' and some other vague notions of why specific buttons are placed on the screen. All of the 'vision' of the final product both verbally communicated and mentally pictured are secretly contained in the expectations of those 'links' represented on the screenshot.
There is no reason so assume otherwise: obviously the project owner needs something of real lasting value to make this project a success. Some degree of novelty is required to differentiate this project from all the other web based initiaves or installed software programs that would potentially compete with this groundbreaking new concept.
- Issue #2: The client had mentally budgeted what he felt it would take to pull off their vision based on the amount of budget that was readily available. Let's say the mental model was somewhere less than $50k. (The entire combined life savings of the two partners that have gone into this project venture).
- Issue #3: The 'original' developer (typically working on a fixed bid model) had to not scare the prospect off with an initial bid. So the mental model of what will be developed was the minumum work possibly represented in the screenshots.
The 'original' developer sees this delivery gap as 'fair' since nothing had really been 'designed' or 'discussed' on how those portions of the application would actually work yet.
- Issue #4: The reality is; Project success in the current marketplace actually does require a large percentage of the feature set of what is present in MS Outlook.
If you have used Outlook then you might have already determined that this a multi-million lines of code project, with lots of quality assurance, testing. I personally have no idea what the total cost to produce Outlook (say 2007) is, but I am guessing at least $5-30 million.
Where does that leave the likelyhood of success for a product that is 99.99% underfunded, underscoped and underbid?
Ok this case scenario is a bit exagerated and perhaps a little harsh.
The reality though is that perhaps the largest driver for success is to invest heavily upfront in 'Discovery'.
Until "every results screen, of every affectable thing" is layed out on screen there is a 'haze' over the true cost of development.
There's a great qoute from a little known movie called "The Emporer's Club", in it the slogan of the school is : "The end depends upon the begining".
That statement rings loud and clear in the software development arena.