In late 2009, I was involved with a $300,000 federal grant project who’s charge was to build an online application for teachers to help them digitize their lesson plans and share them with other professionals. At the time, I was leading a non-profit organization that was the fiduciary agent of the grant. There were two third-party vendors intimately involved with the project — a local technology consultant from the suburbs of Chicago and a small marketing/technology firm located in Minnesota.
From the outset of the project, there was a question as to what the scope of the project was going to be. Originally, we had planned to create an application that would have very robust features that would allow teachers to not only digitize lessons online but also organize them in a password-protected environment. From the beginning of the discussions attended by myself and a representative from each firm, there was some disagreement over which type of technologies should be chosen to build the application and how much technology would have to be created.
The computer programmer wanted to use Microsoft products and software development tools whereas the rep from the marketing firm wanted to search for application that had already been created so as to streamline the process and make it easier to integrate with some of the customer-based management tools that the marketing firm had already developed. The team decided to work with Microsoft products and build an application from the ground up, while keeping a fairly aggressive scope to the project itself: build an application for the end user but ALSO build a document review system for the principals of the project, which would allow for the review of lessons that were submitted to the application and edit/censor them if need be.
My lack of experience as a project manager and instructional designer contributed to a minor train wreck when halfway through the project, the team ran out of resources to complete the application according to its original specifications. Reflecting back, I see the mistake that was made was two-fold: 1) our team should never have chosen to build an application from scratch and 2) our team was too aggressive in believing that the application should have all the bells and whistles that we had conceived. There were also some personal conflicts between the marketing firm and the individual software designer that contributed to problems in the project.
If I had to run the project again, I would have taken the time at the beginning to define a limited scope to the project. To conserve resources, I would have definitely also taken the marketing firm’s advice and searched first for an application that had already been built that could meet the requirements of the project. Not only would this course of action have been cheaper, it would have allowed the team to focus on allotting more time and resources to garnering feedback from end-users about the usability of the software. Because the team had envisioned such a large scope, it was always rushing to complete tasks and what ended up happening? Only the technology tools allowing teachers to digitize lessons was created and finalized. The document review system was left half done and remains half done to this day.