Understanding why tech projects fail (Pt. 4)

The Atom Team

Part 4: Planning

Planning is the backbone of any successful project, serving as the roadmap from inception to completion. While the term ‘planning’ may seem straightforward, its implications in the context of project management are anything but. Planning requires more than simply deciding on the end goals and steps to achieve them; it involves an intricate process of forecasting, resource allocation, and contingency strategizing.

A lack of thorough planning often culminates in projects that are unable to adapt to change. During the conception phase, project scope must be established with a degree of flexibility, as unforeseen changes are not just possible—they are probable. Businesses, especially start-ups, tend to operate with the optimistic expectation that their initial product or service offerings will remain static for the foreseeable future. This outlook can lead to a rigid approach that stifles adaptation and growth.

A full transcript of the podcast can be found here:

Bhairav Patel:
[00:00:01 – 00:00:19]
Welcome everybody, to part four of why projects fail. So for those of you avid listeners and subscribers, you’ll have heard the first three podcasts of why projects fail and the funky acronym that I’ve come up with, which is CPOP. In the very first podcast we talked about c, which is communication. Second one, which is p people. And in the third it was O oversight.

Bhairav Patel:
[00:00:19 – 00:00:46]
So now it’s obviously the last letter of the acronym, which is P for planning. Now, what I mean by planning, well, it’s obvious really, when you think about it. It’s a very self obvious word. But is it though? When it comes to projects, one of the things that I think is quite important when nontechnical founders come to us and request scoping for projects, or they want us to kind of say, how much is it going to cost for X, Y and Z thing?

Bhairav Patel:
[00:00:47 – 00:01:29]
What they don’t really account for is change. And most people come to us thinking that what we will build and deliver to them is the only thing that they need for the next six months, rather than thinking that actually their business will change as it progresses. One of the key things that we’ve seen as startup founders ourselves, with all the different startups we work with, is that not many companies do what they say they’re going to do in the first six months, in the following nine to twelve months. So what I mean by that is a company will come to us and say, yes, we’re going to sell this widget, and this widget is going to be amazing and everyone’s going to love it. And then you launch the product and sell that widget.

Bhairav Patel:
[00:01:29 – 00:02:03]
And what you find after about eight months time, or six months time, is that not everybody really loves a widget. You need to make some tweaks and changes to it, and really you’ve got feedback from others that say, well, make the widget blue or add another widget to the widget. And what you find is that the product itself will have a life of its own as it gets into the hands of the consumers. And one of the things that no one really seems to plan for is that change. And even when you’re building a product, things can happen that will move the dial, will move the needle so that you have to adapt very quickly.

Bhairav Patel:
[00:02:03 – 00:02:53]
So let’s take AI as an example. Since OpenAI came out with Chat GPT, you’ve seen a starburst of companies all professing to have AI enabled products. And this has become so much easier since you’ve got large language models that you can easily integrate with but imagine that if you had been building something like this previously, right, if you’d been working on your own models, or whether you had been working on something that maybe had some kind of interesting algorithms in the background, now your competition is just blown wide open, and you need to do something different. So if you’d set yourself down on a path then and kept that path very fairly rigid, you would now not be in a position to actually adapt to the market that’s around you. And so when I mean that we don’t plan for change is that we don’t plan for technological change.

Bhairav Patel:
[00:02:53 – 00:03:21]
We don’t plan for business change. And what people want is something very fixed and very rigid, which doesn’t account for what’s going on around them. And that’s why you see a lot of projects failing. And they fail because people really feel that what they have, and this goes back to the ego piece, what they have is the most perfect product when we know and has been written countless times that the market demands what you will should sell. Right.

Bhairav Patel:
[00:03:21 – 00:04:02]
The second aspect of planning is we try to do too much too quickly. And I think pretty much any founder, any founder who’s excited, who’s received some cash, will want to get out there to market as quickly as possible. But then oftentimes what you’ll try to do is either chase perfection or try to do too much in a product at once and not release until all the features are present. And I think this is another key area where people fall down, because you want to go to market and put something in people’s hands as quickly as possible. Now, there are big debates going on in the tech world about whether you should have an MVP or whether you should actually have a fully functional product that is executed better than others.

Bhairav Patel:
[00:04:02 – 00:04:45]
Personally, from what I have experienced and seen, the market, you still need to get something out quickly to the market, even if it’s not fully polished. If people are loving it, then you can start, obviously, adding the bells and whistles to it. But if you’re putting something out and it’s dead air, dead water, and there’s no one really buying, then you need to rethink and you can move on quite quickly. Yes, I think where you’re entering a market that has a lot of tools or other services and products that are mature, then I think you may need to go out with something that’s a little bit more than just an MVP. But then again, you got to ask yourself why you’re competing in that market and whether your differentiator is really technology or it’s execution or customer service or something else.

Bhairav Patel:
[00:04:45 – 00:05:21]
So I think one of the key things is to think that when you are starting a project, how much do you really need to do to get out there and live with your customers, making sure that you again plan for change. Because as soon as you get out there, things will change. And you need to ensure that you have an architecture and a structure for the business as well as tech that can support that. This leads quite nicely onto my next point, which is we think operationally and not strategically. Now, obviously, when you’re at a startup and you’re an early stage business or any kind of even a small business, we tend to think operationally because that’s what we’re doing.

Bhairav Patel:
[00:05:21 – 00:05:56]
We’re trying to deliver something out to the market, we’re trying to run a business and we don’t really necessarily think of five steps ahead. And again, it goes back to the planning for change. You need to be able to aware of the market and what conditions there are out there so that you can think with a little bit of more of an open mind and that when things happen, you’re not spooked and you can adapt to that change or adapt to the new situation that’s occurred. And again, this needs to be planned in. So there needs to be some leeway in the project planning that allows you to say, okay, I can adapt to this change.

Bhairav Patel:
[00:05:57 – 00:06:48]
Lastly, we change our minds too often, and I don’t mean here that we’re just talking about people wanting to change a button color from green to blue, but it’s people changing the way they do business too frequently. So again, a lot of what this is about is the fact that you’ll put out a product on a service based on a certain way of operating the business, but people will too quickly change that way of doing business based on the response of one or two customers. Now, I know I said that you need to respond to the market and you need to plan for change, but you need to plan for change where you actually have a substantial amount of feedback from the market that tells you to change. And what we’ve seen quite often is that people will come to us and say, look, we’ve got this client, they need X, Y and Z feature, and we’ve got this other client that needs ABC feature. And what you find that these features are mutually incompatible.

Bhairav Patel:
[00:06:48 – 00:07:39]
And what we’ll tell them is that, okay, this is fine, it’s going to create a lot of changes for your product, but is this really the way you want to go down because it will fundamentally change what you’re trying to offer. And one of the traps that we found, and this is in projects that I’ve been on, where you had very, very large projects to very small ones, where people will try to build for a single customer, and that’s where you will find massive problems will lie, because a single customer will have a very specific way of doing things, and they may be doing things completely different from all of the other companies that you’re trying to reach out there. So when you look at changing things and changing your product or your service, you should always bear in mind that the people that you should be changing it for the majority. And if there’s people that come and they want something specific, they should be paying for it. And that should be a customization that is only done if it fits on the roadmap that you have.

Bhairav Patel:
[00:07:40 – 00:08:06]
And to talk about roadmaps for a second, it’s very important to have one, and that is part of planning. But again, your roadmap needs to be one that can adapt to the changes. So you’ll have a broad brush view of where you want to get to and how you’re going to get there. And ideally, you want to make sure that nothing gets in your way for getting there, other than feedback from the market, which tells you if you moved in a slightly different direction, you’ll make a lot more money. So this is planning.

Bhairav Patel:
[00:08:06 – 00:08:24]
I hope you’ve enjoyed the series so far. In the last podcast, I’m going to go through some of the small things that you can do to really derisk all of the things I’ve said over the last four podcasts. It’s not necessarily a magic solution, but there are things that we found that can help in order to derisk project failure and.

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