Commitment Failure

The following entry is a part of the Pattern Library.  The Pattern Library records the common patterns of events that have the potential to lead to project failure.

Name : Commitment Failure

In brief :
The organization or team make firm, but unachievable, schedule, scope and budget commitments.

The schedule, scope and budget commitments a team makes are amongst the most important decisions made in a project.  Commitment failures occur when the team or organization makes commitments that go beyond the delivery capabilities of the organization or team.  Commitment failures typically happen in one of two ways;

  1. Lack of due diligence
    Firm schedule, scope and budget commitments are made based on insufficient analysis or information.  Such situations are often characterized by poor architectural or planning decisions that are made along with the scope, schedule and budget commitments.
  2. Political and commercial reasons
    Unrealistic commitments are made for political or commercial reasons (such as trying to secure a new contract by making the price or timeline attractive to a customer)

Once the invalid commitments have been made, management and customer expectations typically get locked in.  The team then face significant pressure in their efforts to meet the unachievable commitments.  That pressure can have knock on effects, such as driving additional errors and mistakes, team fatigue, etc.

Typical sequence of events :

  1. Unachievable schedule, scope and budget commitments are made
  2. Client expectations are set against the unrealistic commitments
  3. Project proceeds, but effect of poor analysis in pre-commitment stage begins to show through
  4. Number of problems and issues builds up rapidly
  5. Affect of overly optimistic estimates create schedule pressure
  6. Team attempts to compensate by increasing overtime or adding resources
  7. Increased overtime eventually results in team fatigue, which in turn reduces productivity and increases the number of mistakes being made

Negative effects :

  1. Schedule and budget overruns
  2. Failure to meet client expectations
  3. Team fatigue
  4. Considerable rework due to errors arising for the lack of due dilegence or from the undue schedule pressure

Related patterns :

  1. Top led failure– Commitment failures often occur when Senior Managers make the critical schedule, scope and budget decisions rather than the team who has to deliver the product
  2. Alignment failures– Where sales teams or managers make commitments on behalf of the team they often do so because they are rewarded for signed contracts rather than achievable commitments.  Such situations can be considered a form of Alignment failure as well
  3. Schedule pressure failures– Excessive schedule pressure in the early stages of a project can suppress due diligence thereby leading to a commitment failure

Suggested Actions :

  1. Engage those who will do the work prior to commitments being made
  2. Use staff with highest levels of knowledge and experience to prepare proposals and initiate projects
  3. Provide specialised proposal writing training
  4. Cover unknowns with assumptions or language that will allow for an orderly adjustment of the project once further information is available
  5. Work to ensure customer expectations are managed appropriately
  6. Avoid monolithic commitments in the face of uncertainties. Where possible break into smaller commitments where risk of failure is reduced
  7. Where appropriate propose an engineering study phase to allow for proper analysis to be completed before full commitments are made.