The Six-Month Rule

Scott Francis
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Generally speaking, I believe in thumb rules.  They’re not hard and fast, bright red lines in the sand.  They’re not cliffs.  But they’re important guidelines for reminding you that you’ve seen this movie before, and that it istime to do something different.

The Six-Month Rule is pretty simple:

Get your project into production within six months.  Every day after that is on borrowed time and is at greater risk, like penalty time in a soccer game.

At BP3 we often deploy faster than that. But when we get past 6 months on a project, we deploy extra attention to make sure the project is marching toward completion and/or go-live.

Against that backdrop, we see the other extreme, reported by Appian: 12 Years and $600M for a case management solution:

Now here’s the bad news (and it’s really bad): The system took a total of 12 years and more than $600 million to complete. These numbers, reported in the Wall Street Journal, include the more than three years and roughly $170 million spent on an earlier digital project called Trilogy that never produced a useable case management system.

I’ll avoid taking shots at the overall dollar figure.  Let’s just assume I don’t know what the requirements are for the FBI’s case management solution and how much it costs to meet them (I’d guess they’re complex and robust).

But on the other hand, 12 years is just too long to take to get any reasonable software technology project done.  There are technology projects that can and should be measured on such time scales (drug discovery) – but software needs to happen at a faster pace to avoid being obsoleted.

12 years ago:

  • there was no “Cloud”
  • there were no iPhones
  • there were no Blackberries
  • cell phones were unusual
  • laptops were heavy and cumbersome
  • Windows was the only operating system that mattered
  • Most BPM vendors either didn’t exist or were just starting

To be fair to the FBI, 12 years ago Appian wasn’t a viable solution for them.  None of the BPM vendors really were, most likely.  But the fact is that at year 10, they probably could have started over and had a solution by now that was much better than what they’ve built in 12 years.  It is just the nature of software and hardware progress.

So, stick to the 6 month rule.  If you can’t get your project deployed in six months, go back to the white board and see if you can compromise on scope in a way that will get you there.  If you’re passing that six month mark, be honest with yourself, reassess the project, and figure out how to remove the obstacles that are keeping you from going live (e.g the Bus Brake Effect.).  Because as the months tick by, the odds of external risks impacting your project increase:  obsolescence, politics, organizational changes, budget changes, etc.

 

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  • But the fact is that at year 10, they probably could have started over and had a solution by now that was much better than what they’ve built in 12 years.”

    +1. Absolutely spot-on.

    • It is kind of amazing how many times organizations don’t just look at this as a “sunk cost” and move on!