So, you have been given a project completion date from management or the customer that you think is unrealistic. Did you know that this is the project manager’s fault? Yes, I mean that. An unrealistic schedule only happens if a project manager is not using the tools of project management properly. Here is how to handle this situation once and for all.
When given a date by management or the customer for project completion, a great project manager will do the following:
1. Ask, “How was this date determined?” Then ask, “Is the date a desired date, or is it based on a real business need? What is that need?” In other words, push back to get clarification.
2. Tell management you will get back to them if you discover a problem in meeting that date as you plan the project.
3. Ignore the desired date and plan the project (charter, WBS, network diagram, risk, planning, estimates, budget, schedule, and a schedule reserve to account for risks). Determine a date for project completion based on those factors.
4. If the planned completion date aligns with the desired date, get approval of the schedule from the team and team members’ bosses, and publish it. If the planned date is later than the desired date, work with the team to compress the schedule, if you can, by crashing, fast tracking, and re estimating some of the activities on the critical path. (You know what these activities are if you are PMP® certified, right?) Come up with the best schedule possible based on the project charter, and make sure you control the overall project risk.
5. Create options that management may be able to implement to save time.
6. Present the planned end date to management and explain how it was derived (charter, WBS, etc.).
7. Ask for the end date to be changed to the date you established based on your planning. This is an important step. Management is learning that the project manager has tools to create project schedules that are standardized, internationally used, and make logical sense, and that the project manager is the only one who can compile a project schedule.
8. Ask if that schedule is acceptable, “So, can we go with a project schedule of 30 months?” If you do not ask, you will not get it.
9. If management says, “No,” present your options. Options are usually choices that only management can make. They take the form of, “I have looked at ways to make that end date, and we can do it if you eliminate this activity from the project, give us this many more resources, get commitment from the customer that they will give us this information by a certain date, or decrease project quality in this way.” If the actual project end date is later than the desired date, something on the project must change to get everything desired within the requested time frame. With this approach, any option selected leaves a viable project, and management is involved in a way that benefits the project, rather than hindering it.
10. Invite yourself to be involved when the next project is being discussed to avoid this problem in the future.
If you follow this process, you can get these valuable results:
• You have proof that project management works and should be supported
• You look competent and in control of the project.
• You have pushed back in a way that management wants. (In my studies, 100 percent of management team members say they want their project managers to push back.)
• Management has been involved in project decision-making in a positive way, instead of the less-than-positive way that frequently happens, and the project manager has gotten management buy-in.
• You achieve a realistic project schedule that everyone can believe in, and you have a sense that the project can be completed successfully.
Yes, this process is part of the project management process. If you are a PMP® credential holder, you are professionally responsible for managing realistic schedules, not just living with unrealistic ones.
With a few Tricks of the Trade®, any project manager can improve their project. Good luck!