Lessons Learned from the Project Trenches: Part 1 – EXPECTATIONS

What are the two biggest predictors of a security technology project success?  Performance expectations and requirements that are clear, and a project that is well-managed from start to finish.   If you don’t have the performance expectations correct, there is no way to measure if the project meets the needs of the stakeholders.  Expectation-setting and project management are more art than science.  However, careful attention to details in advance along with stakeholder engagement throughout the process will produce reliable outcomes.

This article will focus on expectations development.  We will discuss project management in a future blog.


If you don’t know “where you want to get to, then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cheshire Cat to Alice, in Alice in Wonderland.  His advice illustrates the need to get clear expectations for the journey, from the outset.  Without this vision, you are doomed to a costly and stressful endeavor.

Defining expectations is the most critical component of project success and is one of the few things that can truly be controlled by an organization. It does not require special technical knowledge and skills, or special security skills. So why does this step so often get forgotten?  One of the main reasons is that projects do not happen in a vacuum. Management is often under-the-gun to get projects started (and finished) and in their haste, steps are skipped. Here are some the failures we see as a result:

  • Success is not clearly defined.
  • Requirements and constraints are murky.
  • Not all stakeholders have the same definition of project success.
  • Product and installation standards exist, but they aren’t always shared with the design and deployment teams.
  • Device placement and hardware installation items are fully addressed, but the softer items (naming conventions, process flows, and operational triggers) are given “lip service” or ignored.
  • Underestimation of the logistics involved in training a 24/7 operation staff that are already operating at capacity.
  • Existing operations and the new design are understood and defined, however the transition between the two is assumed to magically occur.

A structured and deliberate approach helps to streamline and smooth the process.  Encourage all stakeholders to express their views and collectively agree to the measures that are most important.  This puts a project on the path to success.

Start by asking questions.

  • What will define success for the project? What does it look like, how is it demonstrated, and how is it measured?
  • Are there schedules that must be met?
  • What is the budget for the project?
  • How will the project affect the existing staff?
  • Are there other considerations?
  • Of all the items identified, what is the highest priority? What are the “nice to haves” and “must haves”?

Challenge assumptions to validate that what you think is true, is understood by others in the same manner. If you are not sure or have doubts, that indicates things are not clearly defined and it’s time to go back to the drawing board.  As the Cheshire Cat said, “Only a few find the way, some don’t recognize it when they do – some… don’t ever want to.”  Make sure you are one of the few who do.