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Project Management Blog
Many project managers face situations where they are asked to meet fixed dates with very little, if any, margin for slippage. It is hard enough to manage that situation, but sometimes the customers do not meet their commitments. You have a big challenge already trying to hit a fixed date from the customer. Then the customer introduces additional challenges – for instance, not being able to define requirements fully. This can lead to inevitable delays and changing requirements.

There is a good solution to this problem from a project management perspective, but that does not mean you may not have to struggle to make it work. The key is to proactively utilize risk management, issues management, scope management, and proactive communication to your best advantage.

Manage Risks

When you start a project, the first thing you need to do is planning, including creating a Project Charter and a schedule. The planning process includes identifying risks and putting plans into place to mitigate those risks. If you do not think you can hit the imposed end-date, now is the time to say something. When you do, management starts to hear that the end-date is at risk before the project even begins. As part of the risk identification, you can ask the project team and your management for their ideas on how to mitigate the risk. Ideas might include extra staff, leaning heavily on users to get their requirements in on time, etc. Again, there is value in identifying the project risks and working with others on risk resolution. This process also helps from a communication standpoint to better manage expectations.

Manage Communication

The schedule and proactive communications also help the users better understand their role. For instance, do they really understand the need for timely feedback on requirements and the impact to the project if they are late? Do they understand the dates that they will be needed so that they can better plan their time? You can raise this as a risk and start to manage expectations for what will happen if the requirements come in late. It also gives you more foundation for the follow-up communications that may be required if the user’s dates start to slip.

Manage Issues and Scope

As the project progresses, continue to manage risks, issues, and communication proactively. For instance, if the users end up not meeting their dates in spite of your risk management plans, then you have an issue that needs to be addressed. Issues management (problem identification and resolution) needs to be performed. Again, get your team, management, and stakeholders involved. Ask your manager for input in resolving the problem that is now impacting your completion date. You do not have direct authority over the users. Get more accountability from your management and the business managers to help resolve project resource problems. Your managers and sponsors are also the ones in a position to manage priorities to get the work done. Again, if the problem cannot be resolved perfectly, at least you are continuing to manage expectations.

Continue this proactive project management in other areas as well. For instance, if a person leaves, you have an issue that could impact the end date. Communicate the problem and its consequences, and ask for help in determining the best options for going forward. If the users add more requirements, invoke scope change management and make sure everyone knows the impact to budget and schedule. Don't proceed with the changes unless the sponsor has approved the extra time and budget necessary.

Summary

Although it appears that you are being held accountable for events and circumstances that are not within your control, you do have control over the processes you use to manage the project. Manage risk, issues, and scope proactively, and utilize your manager and your sponsor to try to get everyone focused on meeting the aggressive deadlines.

You also have the ability to manage expectations through proactive communication. You should especially point out cause-and-effect relationships. For instance, you can describe the impact to the project if requirements gathering dates are not met.

When it is all said and done, you may, in fact, not be able to hit your imposed deadlines and budget. However, by utilizing disciplined and proactive project management processes, you at least have a shot of success, and you do a much better job of managing expectations and getting management to be a part of the solution, not just the problem.

At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit www.TenStep.com or contact us at admin@TenStep.com.
Published in Blogs
Tuesday, 04 November 2014 17:04

Managing Projects with Unrealistic Deadlines

If you are a project manager dealing with what you perceive to be an unrealistic deadline, you will first want to discuss this with your manager and see if there are any factors that are driving the project deadline that may be unknown to you. Sometimes the person who gives you the deadline seems like the bad guy, but see if you can understand the motivation. For instance, there may be a business activity that is driving the deadline. There may be some event occurring that this project needs to support. Or, your project may be one of a number of initiatives that need to come together at a specific time. It does not necessarily make your challenge any easier, but you may find that by better understanding the reason for the deadline, you may have an easier time getting yourself and your team members motivated to try to achieve it.

On the other hand, if the deadlines seem arbitrary and are not the result of some other business driver, then you should find that out as well. Sometimes managers set arbitrary end dates just to provide what they consider to be stretch objectives. However, if the manager is not careful, there will be a time when there is a firm business justification for an aggressive end date, but no one will believe it.

Once you understand the motivation for the deadline date, there are project management techniques that can be utilized to increase the chances of success and better manage expectations.

Try to Adjust the Triple Constraints of Time, Cost and Scope

All projects require some time and cost to create the deliverables agreed to in the project scope. When one of these constraints is out of balance, at least one of the others needs to be adjusted to get them back in alignment. For instance, if your budget is cut, you need to reduce the scope or increase the time to deliver.

If you find that the time constraint is not in alignment with cost and scope, talk to your manager about increasing the resources that are available for the project. Adding resources to the project makes the cost go up, but may allow you to hit the deadline. Also talk to your customer about reducing the project scope. See if there are features and functionality that they can live without for now so that you can deliver the project within the deadline specified.

Utilize Risk Management

When you start a project, the first thing you need to do is plan. One aspect of the planning process includes identifying risks and putting plans into place to mitigate the risks. In your case, if you don't think you can hit the imposed end-date, now is the time to say something. When you do, your manager and your customer start to hear that the end-date is at risk before the project even begins. As part of the risk identification, you can ask the project team, your customer and your manager for their ideas on how to mitigate the risk. Utilizing risk management will help better manage expectations early in the project and also be a way to gather input and ideas for ways that you might be able to hit the deadline.

Utilize Scope Management

On many projects, you start with an aggressive delivery date, and then the project gets increasingly behind schedule because the project manager does not effectively manage scope. Then you end up having even more work to do by the deadline date. Disciplined scope management will ensure that you only have to deliver what was originally promised, and that any approved changes are accompanied by a corresponding increase in budget and timeline.

Aggressively Manage the Schedule

In many projects, you might get a little behind but have confidence that you can make up the time later. However, when you start a project with the deadline at risk, be sure to manage the schedule diligently. You have no margin for error. If early due dates start to slip, you are going to be in trouble early. As you monitor the schedule, treat missed deadlines as issues and work hard to solve the reasons behind the slippage. Again, get your team, management and customers involved. If your customers are causing delays, get more accountability from your business managers for helping to resolve project resource problems. Again, if the problem cannot be resolved perfectly, at least you are continuing to manage expectations.

Look for Process Improvement Opportunities

Lastly, take an honest look at your schedule and your approach for executing the project. Talk to your team, customers, and manager about any ideas they may have for speeding up the project. This will get everyone thinking about being part of a solution. For instance, if your manager insists on having the project completed earlier than the date you have specified, ask him what techniques he could suggest to achieve the earlier end date. Document any suggestions you receive. Show your customer the project plan as well. If you are not achieving the end date they expect, ask them for ideas on how to shorten the project. See if they can help you come up with a solution to the scheduling problem, instead of just passively waiting for the project to be completed.

In addition, perform a self-evaluation of the project schedule and see if there are ways that you can reduce costs and cycle-times. For instance, are there some different development techniques that you could try that might decrease the end-date? Could you utilize a Joint Application Development (JAD) session to gather requirements more quickly than traditional interviewing techniques? Look at how you currently deliver projects and how you manage them to see if there are ways that you can accomplish the project objectives for less time and cost.  

Summary

In summary, although it appears that you are being held accountable for events and circumstances that are not within your control, you do have control over the processes you use to manage the project. First, see if you can balance the early deadline by increasing resources or reducing project scope. Second, proactively manage risk, scope and the schedule so that you can better manage expectations and have the best chance for success given the constraints you are under. Third, work with your manager, customer and project team to evaluate how you are executing the project. You may discover ideas and techniques that will allow you to deliver the project more quic that you might have first thought possible.

At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit www.TenStep.com or contact us at admin@TenStep.com.
Published in Blogs

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