"A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on."
Chapter 8 - Stage Agreement
We are about to begin a stage. We have built the plan and we have verbal agreements from
resource owning managers to supply the people and other things (hardware, office space...)
that we need. Why bother to write it down and get written commitment, don't we trust their word?
People have an amazing ability to 'forget' what they promised verbally. Put it in writing in a Stage
Agreement and get resource owning managers to sign it.
It is completely unreasonable to expect a project manager to commit if he has no way of securing firm commitments of the resources he will need in order to deliver.
It's easy for a senior manager who sits atop an empire of 300 people to promise the 6 people a project manager
wants. It is quite another thing to get the immediate managers of those 6 people actually to release them.
Before the project manager commits he must be confident that the resources he needs will be available.
Getting the IT team members committed to the project is relatively easy: they exist to do projects. It is usually
much harder to get business users' time committed to the project: they've got other things to do like run
A stage agreement is first and foremost an agreement between the project manager and those who must provide
resources for a project stage. It's a bit like a mini PDD - a PDD for a stage but with the added ingredient
that resource providers sign it.
Stage agreements also help resource owning line managers. If you are a Marketing manager with 20 people
reporting to you and you're providing people to 5 projects you will have signed 5 stage agreements and it will
be clear to you what you've given away and therefore what's left to carry out your department's day to day
A stage agreement should be no more than 2 or 3 pages and should contain:
resource owners for sign off
others for information
Description of stage
Deliverables from stage and who will sign off to accept them
Completion criteria: how we will know that the stage has finished
Success criteria: how we will know whether the stage was successful
Roles and responsibilities, including junior roles that will not appear in the PDD
Risks that threaten the success of this stage and how they will be managed
Resources needed for this stage
Cost of this stage
Key milestone dates (one every 2 or 3 weeks)
Management and reporting: how change will be controlled, progress reported, etc.
Quality plan: how the quality of the stage deliverables will be assured
Outlook for later stages: indication of resources that might be needed for subsequent stages
If you know how you'll manage risks, report progress, control change, etc summarising it in a stage agreement
won't take very long. If you don't know how you'll do those things you're not ready to start the stage. The ability
to sit down and write a stage agreement in an hour or so is a revealing test of readiness.
Let's write a stage agreement for Stage 1 of the project on the right.
User Functions Design
IT Technical Design
Build and Test
Stage Agreement for Stage 1 of Project XYZ
G Smith (HR manager) for resource sign off
J Jones (Marketing manager) for resource sign off
B Gates (IT manager) for resource sign off
R J Patel (IT infrastructure manager)
Steering committee members for information
Project role holders and team members for information
Description of stage
This is Stage 1 of project xyz and it comprises requirements analysis and user functions design.
Deliverables and sign off
Requirements document April 10th
to be signed off by G Smith, J Jones and R James (project user manager) by April 24th
User Functions Design document May 14th
to be signed off by G Smith, J Jones, R James and R J Patel by May 28th
Stage 2 plan and stage agreement May 14th
to be signed off by resource owners (to be identified by May 1st)
Stage 1 completion report May 28th
to be signed off by H E Goodboss May 28th
Stage completion criteria
Above sign offs achieved
Sponsor sign off to concur that stage has completed
Stage success criteria
All issues resolved within 14 days of documents being published and sign offs achieved as scheduled.
Roles and responsibilities
Sponsor: I Topman (Director, Operations)
Steering Committee: Ivan Empire (Marketing Director), J Goodheart (HR Director)
Project Manager: H. E. Goodboss
Project User Manager: R. James
Requirements Team Leader: P. D. Q. Finklestein
Design Team Leader: P Boseman
A project hierarchy chart showing every team member can be found on the intranet at www.ourco.xyz.roles.htm
A full risk register for Stage 1 and for the whole project can be found at www.ourco.xyz.risks.htm.
The main risks threatening the success of this stage are:
Lack of user resources:
written resource commitments are sought via this document
the sponsor has agreed personally to intervene should resource owners in the event be unable to fulfil
Lack of office space where the team can be co-located:
Jason Fixit (Facilities Manager) is pursuing a refit of the old canteen for our use
In the meantime the team will use the Executive Board Room
Resources needed for this stage
The attached week by week, person by person plan shows precisely who is needed and when. In summary,
resource owners will supply the following:
G Smith 2 people full time March 1 - May 28
J Jones 1 person on a one week on, one week off basis starting March 1 and ending April 20 (see plan for details)
B Gates 1 person March 1 - May 28, second person April 10 - May 28. These two will continue through to
the end of Stage 2 (which is the end of the project which we hope will be October 30th) as development team leaders.
Project Support will conduct a Health Check around the end of April. (This is included in project support's plan
which has been committed to the Exec.)
R Patel has committed to make the development environment available by June 10th. Although this date
falls after the end of Stage 1, commitment is sought now due to its criticality.
Cost of stage
$400K. This is primarily people's time costed at Finance Standard Rates. The development environment cost of
$45K will be included in the Stage 2 cost (current best guess $600K). See the business case www.ourco.xyz.buscase.htm
for a full cost and benefit breakdown.
The attached plan shows milestones in red. The major milestones are:
Stage start: March 1st
Requirements workshops completed: March 30th.
Requirements document published: April 10th.
Requirements document signed off: April 24th.
Design simulation completed: May 12th.
Design document published: May 14th.
Plan and agreement for Stage 2 completed: May 14th. (And Stage 2 starts on May 14th.)
Design signed off, all Stage 1 deliverables signed off, Stage 1 end: May 28th.
Management, reporting and communications
weekly team meetings run by team leaders
weekly reporting by team leaders to PM (Mondays)
fortnightly reporting by PM to sponsor
reporting pro formas can be viewed at www.ourco.xyz.reps.htm
issue and change management will be handled personally by the PM given the tight timescales.
Procedures and forms at www.ourco.xyz.issue_pcr.htm
risks will be reviewed in weekly meetings. The project risk procedure and risk register is at www.ourco.xyz.risks.htm
The requirements document will be fully inspected by relevant user personnel (see attached plan that shows inspection
meeting dates and attendees).
The UFD design document will be inspected and a 3 day simulation will be conducted.
Our quality processes are documented at www.ourco.xyz.quality.htm and are almost a direct copy of those
used by J. Clever on the recent rxt project (thank you, John).
Outlook for later stages
Stage 2 (build, system test and UAT) will start on May 14th (a 2 week overlap with Stage 1's tidy up period)
and will complete around October 30th. Contract software developers will be recruited and on board by May 1st and
so have 2 weeks for education in our standards and project orientation, and they will sit in on design inspections and
simulations so they know what the project is all about before they start 'work' on May 14th.
We anticipate we will need 2 user testers from HR and 1 from Marketing for the period Sept 1st - Oct 21st, dates
to be firmed up and committed in the Stage 2 agreement by May 14th.
A real stage agreement wouldn't have many more words than this one. This document is not your entry for the
Pulitzer Prize, it is a summary of what is already known by and agreed to by all parties.