The manager of a major complex systems project liked to ask the contractors to propose 50 or 60 milestones. You can imagine the contractors going as pale as the milestones in a salt desert. “You’re not going to micro-manage all those milestones? Don’t you trust us?” “I shall only select three of the milestones, which I will manage.”
A systems builder used to have just one milestone every nine months. You could imagine that a lot of system can be built in nine months. Would they be throwing systems away from time to time, we may wonder. If you fail to program regular milestones, then you will find out too late that you’ve been wasting time and energy.
When a building is being constructed, the milestones control the progress. When you sign the contract, you may have to release a deposit, say about 5% or 10%. Once the foundations are complete, another 20 to 30% becomes due. Foundations involve risks; there might even be water, rock, or planning permissions to negotiate.
When the roof is installed and the building is being prepared for completion, you could imagine checking out whether the toilets have been installed. Yes, it’s very down to earth, but nevertheless an indispensable function in very many projects. And you might want to test to check that it works. After all if you want to move into your new home, you’ll need it.
One way to be sure is to go there and check the plumbing; that the water flows out and the cistern fills up. Another way is for documents to be sent by the builder – approval forms and signed-off inspections. A further way is to go and see the site manager and ask questions about the schedule.
If you know and trust the contractor, then perhaps you don’t need either a physical test or documentary evidence. Otherwise a prototype is a good way to obtain reliable feedback by testing something visual or tangible and finding out if it works and that you can pay for it.
After all, if you wanted to take your best prospect or friend to a meal, would you not check the restaurant first ? And the kitchen, and the toilet !