Margin. It’s the fuel of your business. It’s the payoff for all your hard work. Like oxygen, you can’t survive very long without it. Why, then, do so many projects have so little margin when completed? The answer involves mystery, but is not mysterious.
Analysts often know that they are not salesmen. They understand that the optimism, duck-feathers, and high-touch people skills are just not in their arsenal. Salesmen, on the other hand, may not recognize that they are not good analysts. That is, they don’t see the need for a patient, linear, detailed approach to scoping a project that comes built into a Requirements Analyst.
Analysts are wired to hunt down the dirty details — to find the hidden gotchas in a complex project — to eliminate mystery. Salesmen are just the opposite. Getting mired in the nitty-gritty spoils the happy customer relationship that they are trying to build. It doesn’t come off as a “can-do” attitude so necessary to winning the bid. Base your cost estimate on this optimistic view of life and you set the stage for a low (or no) margin project.
The two basic variables here are the price you charge and your cost of delivery. Once you deliver the price to the customer, that price doesn’t move. Even on a time & materials job, they get very attached to the early number and your team catches heat if that number starts to rise. If your price was based on your cost plus your target margin, then everything is riding on your delivery cost.
Without a written plan for your project — a blueprint — the last half will not be nearly as much fun as the first. You can face a margin-crushing series of surprises.
Barcode support? Why didn’t you mention that in the sales interview? Integration with the new accounting package? Why would you need that for a customer service web site? Migrate the old data? Are you kidding? It’s a mess!
Don’t think of blueprint preparation as a delay or extra cost — it’s insurance. A blueprint will safeguard your margin as well as your reputation. Build it into your process and protect the profit that you work so hard for.