When the end comes

Sooner or later, the time comes when you finish a project, and there are basically two potential outcomes — a success or a flop.

Rob Lavigne of Akanda Innovation likens a project to a duck. “If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is more than likely a duck. As such, if a project looks like it will fail, it will often fail,” he said. “We all possess a gut feeling towards the project and subconsciously we often know ahead of time that something is not right. It is our job to act on these early on to limit their long-term effects. If a project gets turned around it is not due to luck — we make our own luck through communication and experience.”

But Nortel Network’s Ken Zubricki has managed projects that seemed destined to flop, but wound up working out.

“I would have to say this is because of good project management techniques. I think it was Wayne Gretzky who said, ‘The harder I practice, the luckier I get.'”

Occasionally, luck does play a role. Jacques Giraud of Corelan Communications remembers a project that was tough going, but luck was on his side.

“We were way behind on a large POS client/server system. The client project manager was a tyrant to deal with and would chew me out at least three or four times a week. Just as the deadline approached, he got really ill and had to take two months off work. The new project manager was much more reasonable and we delivered late but to a happy client.”

As projects come to a halt, your team can go through mixed emotions. Bitterness if it has gone poorly and they’ve been pushed to their limits. Relief it’s over. Pride over a job well done. Indifference. As project manager, you can set the tone as to how the team feels.

“We’re constantly building long-term relationships with our clients,” said John Kvasnic of Toronto’s Empower Systems. “I don’t want our people to feel like a project is terminating in any way. I like to think of each project as…a period of evolution in a longer relationship.”

I’ve been reading Ian Percy’s Going Deep, and it has reinforced my belief that, as a manager of people, it’s the project manager’s responsibility to keep up a team’s spirits. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our clients and the details we forget that the details are, in fact, the people responsible for those details.

“One thing I think we often forget to do,” Ken Zubricki said, “is say thank you.”

The end of the project can be a time for generosity and reflection. In the interest of keeping your clients happy, if the project has gone extremely well, you might even consider providing some freebies — little features that couldn’t be included because of time or money.

Giraud gives freebies to good clients when the situation warrants it, but he said it very much depends on your relationship.

“If the client is unreasonable, is always asking for more and doesn’t understand why it takes so long to do anything and doesn’t appreciate the effort of the programmers, then generally not.”

I get philosophical at the end of projects. Sometimes they go well, sometimes they are dogs. No two projects are ever alike. In hindsight, it’s easy to see where the mistakes and good decisions get made. Really, it comes down to being calm, and taking things one step at a time.

Communicating and thinking quickly. Keeping your eyes on the target. I asked Lavigne for any overreaching words of wisdom, any tricks to success learned through experience, anything that could be passed along to a newer generation of project managers. He replied there were some, but “if I told you, I would have to kill you.”

Martin (jasonjmartin@geocities.com) works at a Toronto-based Internet firm.