How to Handle Unrealistic Schedules

You’ve 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.

Consider this Approach on Your Project

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. 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.
  10. Invite yourself to be involved when the next project is being discussed to avoid the problem of unrealistic schedules in the future.

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.

Results of Pushing Back on Unrealistic Schedules

You can get valuable results if you follow this project management process including:

  • Getting proof that project management works and should be supported.
  • Looking competent and in control of the project.
  • Pushing back in a way that management wants.
  • Engaging management in project decision-making and buy-in in a positive way.
  • Achieving a realistic project schedule that everyone can believe in, and you have a sense that the project can be completed successfully.

Take A Deeper Dive into Managing Unrealistic Schedules

If you are a PMP® credential holder, you are professionally responsible for managing realistic schedules, not just living with unrealistic ones. RMC’s eLearning course, Handling Unrealistic Project Schedules, provides a more in-depth look at dealing with common project scheduling issues. Plus, you can earn 8 contact hours toward a PMP®, CAPM® or PMI-SP® certification or 8 PDUs for maintaining your PMP® certification. Contact us for more information.