SagaciousThink - Global Operations Excellence
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SagaciousThinking Blog

Musings from the team.

Project behind schedule? (don't help, at least not as you're tempted to)

As managers, we want our teams to succeed. Yet when things get tough we can sometimes make matters worse by trying to help:

Extending deadlines

Approach this “solution” with caution.  Often nothing is gained as employees loose motivation, procrastinate, let other work take precedence and soon they have returned to the same point in the project as  when the schedule was first extended. Understand how the project got to be delayed before granting an extension to avoid a repeat of the original issue.

Schedules that have a long duration may not have a solid feel for the team -  “oh there’s plenty of time to accomplish what needs to be done” If this sort of thinking has the potential to happen ensure sufficient interim milestones are identified along the project’s critical path to keep everyone focused and "on their toes".  It’s also not enough to identify them; the team must be held accountable to meeting those milestones.

However, sometimes good reasons exist for moving the deadline, such as a conflict came up that could not have been reasonably anticipated, or resources that had been anticipated got pulled. 

Some steps to ensure that this new date is met:

Have the team develop the revised schedule and when reviewing the schedule have them demonstrate that they’ve identified the right resources and the associated levels of effort.  Ensure the team understands which risks could undermine their efforts, and they are committed to meeting the interim milestones.

Before adjusting to that new schedule ensure everyone understands what factors caused the first schedule to slip and that these factors are addressed in the revised schedule.  One example might be an unrealistic expectation of the time required to complete activities.  Confirm that the durations are adjusted to reflect reality given the level of effort and available resources.  Remember the three sides of a project:  time, quality and cost, if one changes it impacts the remaining two factors. Confirm that these seemingly minor changes are considered before being absorbed into the schedule and budget.

Sponsors should be included in these conversations and they support both the new schedule and any revised effort required. They can also convey to company leadership the reason for the schedule adjustment and their support of the new delivery dates.

Confirm the team feels they own the schedule they are developing.  If that sense of ownership is lacking with the project plan, be assured that the end date also does not carry the requisite weight to influence effort. 

Regular schedule reviews are required to ensure progress and identify the potential risks that may hamper the work going forward.  Risks and their potential to impact change over the life of the project and this fact needs to be recognized and accounted for in the plan.

Make sure all of the stakeholders know of the new deadlines and can adjust their schedules appropriately.  Its seems obvious, but in big matrix organizations, its easy to assume everyone has the same information.  For the sake of your project, don't assume.   

Adding People Is a Minus not a Plus

Adding people to the team is tempting but rarely helps.  The primary reason for this challenge lays in communication.

An established team already has an understanding of what the issues are and the communication structure.  Adding a new person throws that system out of whack; what do they know? What can we assume they know?  Who is the team expert of each of the issues? 

There’s a lot of background or context knowledge that they will not be privy to or have the time to research that will slow them and their new teammates down that are trying to bring them up to speed.

Steps can be taken to mitigate schedule slippage.  Choose your response wisely.  Remember to always do a post project review to understand what worked and what did not and incorporate those lessons learned into future projects.