The project plans were developed thoroughly and managed diligently by a competent project manager. You reviewed and agreed to every milestone and goal in the project plan to make sure your investment would deliver what you expected. Many months and weeks later, the team delivers the project and you are convinced they must have been reading from a completely different book. The final product resembles what you were expecting, but major differences exist in terms of specific functions, usability and integration with other important processes.
Your immediate reaction is to challenge the competence of the project team members. The team appears to have missed the target so badly after such careful planning. Apparently, you were not informed of what appear to be deviations from the plan. Before you pick up the proverbial axe and start firing people, you may want to look in the mirror to see who is accountable for the project and its outcomes. That would be you.
The problem began when you assumed that the initial set of plans were sufficient to guide the project to a successful conclusion. This assumption is erroneous for two important reasons. First, as the project progresses the real world begins to test the assumptions and expose new information or changes in the environment. Second, by the time the project plan is passed down three layers to the lowest level member of the team, the original assumptions will have been communicated, interpreted and translated several times.
These assumptions can spell disaster for projects that may take many months to complete. Ironically, this occur precisely because the team continued diligently working in the wrong direction by following the original plan to the letter. As the sponsor of the project and as the person ultimately accountable for its performance, you must take a more active role during the project development life cycle. This begins by ensuring that the plans have frequent check points built into them to allow for status updates, change requests, validating assumptions and clarifying any questions from the team.
On the topic of aligned goals and managing change, you can never communicate too often or too much. The entire team from top to bottom must understand their work in the context of the specific objectives and milestones of the project as they support the broader vision and mission of the business. This serves as a self-aligning mechanism with each team member able to make creative decisions that are consistent with your goals and overall purpose. Without this, they will guess what they each believe to be the best solution and that results in the inconsistencies in the final solution.
Additionally, you must ensure that the plan has sufficient flexibility built into it to allow for changes to be incorporated in a timely manner. This allows the project to adapt to the learning about assumptions, market conditions and other expectations and hit the target with the optimal solution. Sometimes these changes cost money and time and the final solution may not appear exactly as originally planned, but it will be a better solution. When the logic for reviews, communication and change management are built into the process, it resembles a guided missile aimed at a moving target. The missile makes many adjustments in its course and speed while remaining locked on to the target. If it only aimed at the original target location, it may successfully blow up far from the actual target.