project management case study

Article - Project Negotiations Conundrum - What Would You Do?


One of the most important lessons I learned after spending close to 20 years in the project management profession is that the underlying interests, constraints and risk tolerances of the project team and other stakeholders – especially customers - are never identical. As a result of this proposition we can derive the following project management axiom:

Good project manager can increase the size of the pie by looking for things that are of low cost to him and his team and high value to the customers (and vice versa).

One of the best examples of this technique is demonstrated in the so-called “Orange Fable”:

Two kids (a boy and a girl) are quarrelling over an orange. Their father enters the room and, operating under the “fixed pie” assumption, cuts the orange in two equal halves. And then he notices that the brother ate the orange and threw away the peel, while his daughter used the peel from her half as an ingredient in pastry while disposing of the fruit. At that point of time the father realizes that had he asked the question “What do you need this orange for?”, he would have doubled the size of the pie for both parties involved!

Here is another example of this technique used on a real project. A relatively small construction company lands a very lucrative deal to build a shopping mall for a large and established real estate management company. All the contracts have been discussed and signed when a project manager from the construction company receives a call from a representative of the real estate management organization…

Customer: “I would like to add another clause to our contract. If the work is on the new mall not finished by the deadline in the contract, I want your company to pay a penalty of $5,000,000”

PM: “Hmm, we have already signed the contract without the late penalty clause; I am not sure how our management would react to that …”

Customer: “I am sorry, but I have been instructed by my boss not to proceed ahead without this modification to the contract”

PM: “And may I ask you why do you, guys, feel the need to add this clause?”

Case Study - What Went Wrong with the Most Expensive Warship?


The project to deliver the most expensive warship in the world is $2.3 billion over the budget and 2 years (and counting) late. The US Navy’s newest $13 billion aircraft carrier is still not ready for combat because of mechanical delays that have already put it two years behind schedule, according to the Pentagon’s top weapons tester.

The USS Gerald R. Ford (see Figure 1 for more info) was supposed to be ready by September 2016, but Michael Gilmore, the Defense Department’s director of operational test and evaluation, said in a June 28 memo that the warship had ongoing launch and recovery problems.

Figure 1

USS Gerald Ford_0.PNG

The construction of the ship started in November 13, 2009 and is still ongoing. Click on the video below to watch the time lapse.

Video - USS Gerald Ford Construction Timelapse


The Problems

Table 1


The Root Causes

Let us try to analyze the root causes first.

"Unrealistic business cases, poor cost estimates, new systems rushed to production, concurrent design and construction, and problems testing systems to demonstrate promised capability"

Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Senator John McCain

However the some officials indicated that missed deadline can be attributed to the decisions made when the Pentagon committed to building the advanced ship in 2008.

"The decision to proceed with these three systems was made many years ago, prior to their maturation, when transformational approaches to acquisition were a DOD policy,"

Mark Wright, a Defense Department spokesman.

Let us try to make some sense out of the information presented above:

Article - A Story Of One Interview: What Would You Do?


An interesting (to say the least) conversation took place between yours truly and a vice president of software development several years ago during a job interview. Today I just wanted to share this experience with you and ask for your suggestion on how to deal with it:

VP: So, you have been working as a project manager for close to ten years now, right?

Me: Yes that is correct. The only thing I wanted to add is that I have also been working as a business/requirements analyst over that period of time.

VP: But I don't see any technical (developer) experience on your resume.

Me: Actually I have finance/management science educational background.

VP: So, you never worked as programmer?

Me: Not really.

VP: And how the heck do you expect to manage technical people?

Me: (confused) I am sorry, I am not sure what you mean ...

VP: Well, say you join our team and get assigned to work on a project. You are estimating the duration of the tasks and your programmer tells you that the activity would take 5 days. Whereas in reality it would take only 2 days. How would you know that he is lying if you don't have any developer background? What can you possibly do in this situation?

Me: (turning to the HR Manager who was also present in the boardroom) I would probably suggest that you fire your human resources manager ...

VP: (very surprised) What??

Me: (smiling) Well, you just said that most - if not all - of your programmers are liars. Shouldn't the personnel department try to do a better job when hiring people?

While this response was probably a bit harsh, I was just wondering what would you do in a situation similar to the one described above?

A) Roll up your proverbial sleeves and try to convince the VP that project managers do not have to possess technical skills in order to successfully run projects.

B) Agree with him, leave the office, cry a bit and forever abandon your project management career in software development and IT.

C) Ignore his comments, wait for the interview to finish and go look for a company with a less toxic  environment.

Case Study - Small Software Product Development Company


Thinktank Consulting was approached by the management of a relatively small software development company that was looking for some help with their issues. At the time they had approximately ten to fifteen small clients that they sold their product to and were obligated to support these clients to generate cash flows to sustain the company. At the same time the firm was selected to participate in a tender for a very large contract with one of the larger players in the Asian telecommunications market. The management felt that they had a very good chance of winning this contract providing they can produce a major upgrade to their product.


The issues mentioned by the executives of the software house included: excessive workloads, projects (both from Professional Services and Product Development areas) frequently being late, Change Requests implemented for customers frequently required rework and “buggy” upgrades to the existing software product.


Quality and richness of features of the new version of the product was of the first priority to the company, because of its Asian bid. At the same time the management was concerned about maintaining the cash flow generated by the CRs requested by the existing small customers. Time factor was also important; however the senior management has indicated that they were willing to be somewhat flexible in order to obtain superior quality.

Case Study - Global Financial Instituation


Our company was commissioned to take over a large portfolio including several regulatory projects ($50,000 to $250,000) and a flagship infrastructure overhaul project ($15,000,000). Also Thinktank Consulting was requested to provide its expertise and assistance in the rollout of the mew project management methodology and the establishment of the Project Management Office (PMO).


There were several problems associated with the above-mentioned goals. Firstly, the company culture and organizational structure (functional) provided the newly-hired project managers with a very complex environment. Furthermore the new PM methodology developed in the European headquarters needed fine-tuning for the local conditions.


Most of the bank's IT portfolio consisted of the regulatory projects mandated by the various North American, European and international governing bodies. One of the main aspects of such projects is that the scope and deadline is fixed by the government leaving little room to “manipulate” the project management triangle. In addition the number and the size of the IT portfolio has grown by approximately 50% compared to the previous year while the technical team has grown by only 10-20%. This factor has obviously increased the pressure on the management team with respect to project resource allocation.


Thinktank Consulting determined that the only way to deliver the regulatory project on time and with the limited resources was to concentrate on quality Requirements Engineering, Project Prioritization and Project Management. Special attention was dedicated to the involvement of our business counterparts in the requirements gathering and management processes.

Our company has also participated in the deployment and fine-tuning of the new project management methodology. The work, among other things, included enhancing the standard Requirements Document, adding several sections to the Project Plan and collaborative development of the Project Roadmap document.

We have also provided several training sessions in the areas of Negotiations, Estimation and Requirements Engineering.

Case Study - Global Imaging Company


Thinktank Consulting was requested to provide its expertise on a flagship strategic project initiated y a global digital imaging corporation. The project was expected to involve basically every area of the business and focused on building a web-based front-end system that would allow business customers search, select and order various products offered by the company. The new system was also required to have a real-time interaction with a complicated ERP system that has just been deployed in North American headquarters.


Although the company had some basic project management methodology in place, the level of sophistication was insufficient for the upcoming project. Documentation was available, however different project teams used different templates. There were no key documents identified by the IT department. In general following project management was more voluntary rather than obligatory. For example, sign-offs on key documents were very frequently obtained after the development process has already started thus causing misunderstandings and confusion. In addition there were no clear guidelines on the relationship between IT and Business sides. Thinktank was notified that the senior management was considering using this project as a pilot for gauging and planning all future project management and business analysis practices.


Quality of the product was of the first priority in this project. In order for the system to be accepted and used by the customers and all the internal departments involved it had to be attractive, user-friendly and efficient. It also had to integrate seamlessly with the existing ERP system.

Time factor was also important; however the senior management has indicated that they were willing to be somewhat flexible in order to obtain superior quality. The budget part was a bit more complicated: the executives were prepared to be generous with resources but did not want to invest in any kind of business analysis or project management software packages.

Case Study - Biotechnology Start-Up


In 2001 we were contacted by a small bioinformatics company started by group of biotechnology scientists and computer programmers. The company was in the process of developing a new bioinformatics platform for the biotechnology sector. The team was expected to develop a working prototype of the platform as soon as possible in order to test it at several locations including Centre for Disease Control, UBC Medical School and Canada Genome Centre. The next logical step was to present their platform and independent reviews to the venture capital companies.


The main challenge facing the team was that the biotechnology experts had very differing ideas on how the system should work and what it should do. Developers on the other hand, did not have any background in cutting-edge biotechnology science and had a very difficult time understanding the requirements. The process that started with great fanfare and enthusiasm has stalled after about one month.


As was mentioned before time was of an issue. The window of opportunity was defined to be 6 to 12 months. Furthermore, due to tight financial situation the company could not afford to invest in additional resources or provide developers with biotechnology training. Quality and the scope of the product were somewhat less of an issue since the company was expected to produce a working prototype with relatively few functions. However the prototype was expected to perform exceptionally well in order to gain acceptance and positive reviews of independent experts.


One of the first issues that became obvious to Thinktank Consulting was the fact that the company had a very weak understanding of the system development life cycle (SDLC) process. And while full-scale implementation of project management and business analysis methodologies would have definitely benefited the company, lack of time and budget warranted a simpler and leaner approach.

ThinkTank Consulting developed a customized course covering key areas of Requirements Gathering, Vision and Scope and Software Requirements Specifications documentation and their relationship to the basic Project Plan.

Case Study - Large European Telecom


Close to the very end of the last year Thinktank Consulting has completed a very exciting project that has been two years in the making. We have successfully finished a very large project and portfolio management implementation initiative at one of the leading European telecom providers.

The company has experienced a significant growth in the number and size of their projects. Currently a typical project portfolio at the organization consists of approximately fifty ongoing large endeavours. As a result of the above-mentioned developments the company started experiencing problems in the areas of resource planning, allocation and management. Furthermore, there are certain issues with proper planning of the projects, adequate project control and performance reporting.

Company management has contacted Thinktank Consulting Inc. to assist them with an independent, unbiased assessment of the situation and provide its expertise in addressing their problems.

Problems and Challenges

Project Portfolio Management

  • Lack of strategic planning/ portfolio management/ project prioritization
  • Lack of strategic resource allocation

Project Management

  • Lack of proper project planning
  • Lack of unified project management methodology
  • Lack of qualified (trained) and dedicated (full time) project managers
  • Poor Interdepartmental communications on projects
  • Lack of proper requirements elicitation, documentation and management
  • Lack of proper and/or fair estimation

Freestyle Comments from Participants

Portfolio Management/Resourcing

Case Study - North American Port Authority


I was once introduced to a PMO Director of a large North American port authority by a colleague of mine at one of the project management conferences. We chatted for a while, when he told me that his organization had been experiencing serious problems with their current projects and would appreciate my assistance in the matter.

We arranged for a meeting with the PMO Director, the CEO, COO and the CFO of the port authority where we agreed to proceed with an improvement program designed to address their problems.

Problems and Challenges

Interviews with various employees of the organization revealed the following problems (percentage of people who mentioned the issue are shown in brackets):

  • Lack of communications between the departments on larger interdepartmental projects (97%)
  • Lack of uniformity in project management approach across the departments (93%)
  • Lack of accountability for cost & time overruns and poor quality (80%)
  • Lack of feasibility analysis in project selection (77%)
  • Projects are not prioritized properly (75%)
  • Issues with underestimation (68%)
  • Projects are frequently over the budget or late (either underestimated or due to lack of skills) (64%)

Some comments from the participants:

Case Study - Telecommunications Product Company


Thinktank Consulting was contacted by a medium-size European software company producing various value-added services for the telecommunications industry. The organization has experienced a very fast growth in terms of revenues, full-time employees and the portfolio of services it offered.

The executives felt that now was the time to venture into the non-telecom domain by providing professional IT services to other organizations and by developing their own mobile apps business line.

Problems and Challenges

The senior management of the company had several concerns about the future development of the organizational goals. They included:

  • Our projects are getting bigger, especially the professional services ones. Do we have the in-house skills and capabilities to handle them?
  • We started experiencing certain problems with our projects already. They include poor quality of product, need for rework and missed deadlines. What are the root causes of these problems?
  • We are entering two new business domains with very steep learning curves. How do we balance our best resources without damaging the existing business lines?
  • We seem to have too many project ideas. How do we handle the resource allocation?
  • We need more project managers and business analysts, but they are not readily available in our market. What options do we have?


As the company employees have been already heavily involved in multiple projects already, the time factor had to be considered as we did not have the luxury to “remove” the resources from their projects for a prolonged period of time.


Thinktank Consulting has identified three problem areas for the company. They included:

  • Lack of project management capabilities
  • Lack of requirements management (aka business analysis in the IT and software development world) capabilities
  • Absence of project proposal prioritization and strategic resource allocation (project portfolio management)

The following steps were undertaken: