Tag Archives: project planning

Here’s Your Deadline!

“Morning comes, whether you set the alarm or not.” – Ursula K. Le Guin

When we are fortunate, then morning comes whether we set the alarm or not. In our project work, our deadlines are going to arrive, whether we plan for them or not. This is not an argument in favor of fatalism and lack of planning, “Well the deadline will come whether we are prepared or not, so why bother?” It is a reminder that the deadline will come, so why not be prepared? Setting the alarm is a metaphor for planning and morning is your deadline. The deadline will come, whether or not you have a plan.

To return to the analogy of morning, you can face your day with calm and preparation or with surprise and chaos. You have at least one friend who wakes up everyday and everyday has a difficult time pulling himself together and getting out the door. Yet at least five days a week he has the same destination, the same commute and the same dress code. But each morning is like a surprise to him. He does not know where his clean clothes are; he does not have gas in the car or time for breakfast.

Then there is you, your clothes are ready, your lunch is packed, if you need to stop for gas you allow for time in your schedule, your morning routine flows smoothly MOST of the time. Your planning does not guarantee a perfect morning. Your planning positions you for an easier morning, even when things start to fall apart.

The purpose of the plan is not guaranteed perfection. The purpose of the plan is to provide for a better experience. To increase the likelihood of meeting your goals and when changes and issues arise (and they will), you will be less disrupted and recover more quickly.

The difference between you and your friend is that when he gets out the door and he is already late and running low on gas, even if everything else falls into place, he is most likely going to be late. On a day when he is already late and running low on gas and everything else falls apart (traffic jam, car trouble), he is going to be exceptionally late. You on the other hand will be on time MOST days and on that rare day when you are late, the fact that it was out of your control will be understood.

A project manager who does not lead her team in good planning will earn the reputation of being disorganized, and barely making or often missing deadlines on a regular basis. A project manager who leads her team in good planning will earn the reputation of being a strong professional who is prepared and makes deadlines with ease. Only situations beyond her control and the control of her team cause them to falter. And when this happens, they respond quickly and effectively.

Like it or not, the deadline will come. Will you be ready?

Go Ahead, Pause that Project

While managing my first large project I found myself facing a very serious dilemma. Should the project be paused in order to conduct some much-needed planning or should we simply keep going and not lose even one day to a planning session?

Some of my stakeholders were in favor of taking a brief project timeout in order to have an offsite project planning session and the rest of them thought this was a bad idea and a waste of time. They were almost evenly divided. I was right in the middle of the debate and I had yet to form an opinion. This is what I knew:

  1. The project had started without a project manager (a first sign of danger).
  2. A scope document had been written and approved, but no estimating had been completed (a second sign of danger).
  3. There was a hard deadline and if we missed the deadline it would cause significant and expensive disruptions to the business (a third sign of danger).

Those in favor of taking a pause for a planning session pointed out that we had no idea whether or not we would make the date. Those opposed to the delay felt it was best not take time away to pause the work and discuss it. Their perspective was,  “Keep your heads down and work as hard as you need to in order to make the date.”

Nobody wanted to take responsibility (yet another sign of danger), for making the decision. The decision was in my hands and the implications were clear. If I held the planning session and it caused us to miss our date that would be my fault. If I did not hold the planning session and we missed our date that would be my fault. Stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place, I risked the anger of my sponsor and called for the planning session. I opted to delay the project. A one-day pause for the entire team where we would work to create a work breakdown structure, create project estimates and a clear schedule.

Fortunately this story has a happy ending. We learned that we would be able to make our date. We learned the value of a strong work breakdown structure, good estimates and a well-defined schedule. At the end of our day-long planning session, my sponsor stood up and told the entire room that he had not been in favor of us taking this day away from the project. He then stated that he now saw the value in that project delay and that he was happy that we had taken this brief pause.

Sometimes what your project needs is a pause, a delay.Sometimes you gain more ground when you take a moment to stand still.

Are You Missing This Critical Piece Of Your Project?

Missing - by Robert S. Donovan via Flickr [Creative Commons-licensed for commercial use]

Missing - by Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

There is one specific item I would like to address today. ?Then, I’d like to hear your examples in the comments.

This is something I have forgotten about when planning projects in the past, and I see other project managers overlook it. ?It’s obvious when you point it out, but that’s as long as you are not in the pit with the alligators.

Monitor & Control Work Appropriately

I was once in a situation where the scope of my project was constantly changing. ?This happens on all projects of course, at least those of any size and complexity. ?It’s a natural process. ?This one was particularly bad.

One day, I asked myself how much time had been spent in replanning activities. ?How much time had the other project managers spent? ?The project controllers? ? Myself? ?What is all this re-planning costing us in terms of schedule, dollars, and quality?

Then the obvious hit me. ?The project team had also been impacted of course. ?They had to sit down and re-estimate tasks, consider impacts of the changes, etc. ?Every step of the way. ?Where was this tracked?

Nowhere.

Yikes!

Project Planning - by Iain Farrell via Flickr

Project Planning - by Iain Farrell via Flickr

Nowhere?

This goes back to a common mistake when constructing a WBS and defining the scope of your project. ?Sure, you have a “project management” element at level 2 in your WBS. ?Do your engineers charge there when their attention is diverted away from getting things done and instead goes towards project management related activities?

After all, the time they spend re-planning with you is deducted from the time they would otherwise have been doing design work, writing code, or whatever their real job on your project is. ?If they record that time appropriately, you can use it. ?If they just charge it as normal work, it’s a lost opportunity.

But Why Track It Anyway?

I’m not advocating you track this for the sake of it. ?Only track what makes sense. ?This gives some benefits you may want to consider:

  • It helps you know what the impact of re-planning is to your project. ?By not hiding this diverted work alongside the real work, you can know the impact to schedule, budget, and quality.
  • It helps you manage your stakeholders. Solid data about past impacts to project work resulting from massive scope changes can help ensure change requests are submitted and approved only when the value outweighs the costs.
  • It helps with better estimates in the future. By really knowing what it takes for you and your team to respond to scope changes, you can now include the estimated impacts of this inevitable project activity, instead of missing deadlines or going over budget because you failed ?to factor change into your project planning.

Leave a comment right now. ?Share one of your experiences with the community.