About 2 years ago we took on a project that changed our business. We should not have taken on this highly custom project- we were out of our depth, it was poorly scoped and we didn't have the budget or timeline to do it right. The client had been patient, understanding and even accommodating on additional funds. This wasn't a case of a client from hell. It was us over-promising and under-delivering. It was a mistake on every level. It was also entirely my mistake. I screwed up big time.
After burning about 1000 hours and pushing one of our senior team members to brink of sanity we decided we had to walk away from the project even though it was near the finish line. We just couldn't meet the client's expectations. It was devastating emotionally and financially. We had never before, or after, been unable to complete a project. So we did all we could to hand the project off smoothly to the next team.
As I walked away in shock from the wreckage I swore "no more custom work for clients!"
What followed was 6 months of saying no to custom web application work. We refocused the company towards web marketing services and focusing on improvements to our CMS. We were so stunned by our first real failure as a company we didn't know what else to do.
During this time we ignored the fact that we are really good at executing the right custom web projects. We've been doing these since we started the company. With this one glaring failure blinding me I ignored all our successes and heavily overcorrected.
Looking back at the experience it was probably the best thing that has happened to me professionally. I learned a lot about managing expectations, laying the right foundation for success, creating a client experience and leading the team. I'm not the same person that took on that project. We aren't the same company. It changed everything.
As we have started taking on custom web projects the past year I've seen the team regain confidence and do great work. I've also seen how this learning experience has been institutionalized across the company. I wish we could have learned it in a less painful way for the client and ourselves- especially the client- but the lesson has been learned and the overcorrection has been corrected.