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The Case for a Project Phase Zero for Self-Service Kiosks

All software projects start with the intent of being finished on time and within budget, but the sad truth is that this outcome happens much less than anyone would like to see. In a 2017 report by the Project Management Institute (PMI), while only 14% of projects fail outright, many finish without having met their goals, or end up over budget, or are just plain late. Not a great showing for the IT industry as a whole.

PMI further broke down the common causes for project failure. Right up at the top of the list was “inaccurate requirements,” meaning that the project effectively was not scoped right. A staggering 39% of IT projects suffered from this problem.

A solid 25% of projects also suffered from “undefined risks.” Managing project risk is critical to a successful IT project. As Donald Rumsfeld so famously noted, when navigating a space with risk we have three main areas of concern:

  • the known knowns, being the problems we are well aware of
  • the known unknowns, being the problems that we know of but don’t have the answers to
  • the unknown unknowns, being the problems we didn’t even know existed

Most self-service kiosk projects start with a list of known problems to solve and requirements to meet, but those are the known unknowns; it is often the unknown unknowns that cause a project to struggle. At Advanced Kiosks, we recommend spending a bit of time at the beginning of the project to bring those unknowns into the light.

Self Service Kiosks Problem Solving

To do this, we propose completing what we refer to as a Project Phase Zero to get all the requirements listed and understood. During this phase, we collaborate with our client on the features, functionality and user experience of the intended system, with the intent of generating a well-defined set of requirements for the kiosk software. 

A Project Phase Zero typically runs through the following stages:

  • Discovery – meetings with stakeholders to get all the known information and requirements on the table
  • Understanding – extrapolate the additional unknowns and capture a complete set of requirements 
  • Preliminary Design – produce early workflows and example screens to show possible design directions
  • Prototyping – create any needed physical or digital prototypes to ensure feasibility

The crucial part of all this is the early Discovery time. Getting the input from the major project stakeholders can go a long way towards mitigating the risks that otherwise may plague projects. Representatives from IT, sales, marketing, executive management, and even the eventual end users should all get a voice in the product. One of the more highly publicized project failures in recent years came from rollout of the website. That project suffered greatly from a lack of stakeholder participation

From these discovery sessions, a much greater understanding of the full scope of the project is always formed. This makes the eventual project estimate far more accurate than could otherwise be achieved by the common method of asking developers to do a spitball estimation based on a list of discrete features. Spending as little as 5% of your budget up front will yield big returns at the end of the project. You are still working within the cone of uncertainty for the project, but this bit of incremental spending for the Phase Zero effort can go a long way towards reducing risks.

An important thing to remember is that a Phase Zero effort is not a long commitment. Depending on the size and complexity of the project, it could be anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks of total time and effort.

If you are considering undertaking a large self-service kiosk project but are not quite sure of the scope and cost, the Phase Zero approach should be extremely valuable. Documented stakeholder inputs and solid project requirements are likely going to be the deciding factors in a kiosk software project that is on time and within budget, and one that is not.

At Advanced Kiosks, we often recommend this approach for complex projects. We have found from years of experience that establishing this solid foundation can make a world of difference. If you are thinking about adding self-service kiosks to your organization and want to know how best to go about doing so, contact our technical sales team for a brief consultation.