In a highly competitive environment, Sales teams and Advanced Engineering (or “Phase 0”, if you prefer) are often forced to rely on rose-colored-glasses to achieve their objectives. Even if your organization claims that they will be held accountable for over-selling, you and your cross-functional team will be blamed for under-delivering if the stakeholders expectations were set unreasonably high at the start of the program. Programs that are months or years long are perfect breeding grounds for industrial amnesia.
Your Sales team is receiving pressure to reduce the price prior to award of contract. So, Engineering is tasked to reduce the time it will take to deliver the project and the cost of the bill of materials. They conspire to “hit a number” by making assumptions about eliminating entire parts off the bill of materials or a “booking” a miracle that they need Purchasing to pull off when awarding components that will be bought instead of made. Advanced Engineering is usually made up of intelligent dreamers that don’t have to work with manufacturing to ensure that a product can be built as it is imagined and they don’t have to deliver products to customers. In short, the recipe for Sales and Advanced Engineering success is the perfect storm of a challenge for the cross-functional team in charge of execution.
This isn’t a blame game. Inexperienced program managers can clearly be the root cause for cost overruns, late delivery and missed expectations. So, too, can the inexperienced or dubious Sales and Advanced Engineering teams be the root cause for a project being set up to fail. Sales and Advanced Engineering succeed by raising expectations. Experienced program managers succeed by lowering expectations so the team can exceed them. The constructive tension that the difference creates must be understood and managed by the program manager.
So, it is advisable to perform your own assessment of the credibility of the plan and expected results at the earliest possible time. It won’t change what you are up against and it is likely too late to make any changes in scope that target reality. However, it prevents everybody wondering why the program looked so much more difficult to execute than was forecast or why the margin was so far off from when the business was awarded.