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Avoiding Accountability for Unrealistic Project Schedules
By Bogdan Gorka

In my work I often see that ideas for projects are very long disputed, decided upon and discussed. And suddenly, during one meeting there comes a decision about project implementation. Unfortunately, the natural reaction of those making the decision that they want the results as soon as possible.

There I can tell you one of my project management jokes which goes like this:

An executive meets a project manager who apparently is scared to death about this meeting.
Exec: I would like this system to be fully operating as soon as possible. When do you think this can be done?
Scared PM: I think if I try really hard this can be ready tomorrow afternoon.
Exec: If I wanted to have this tomorrow I would come tomorrow, wouldn’t I???

I am sure that most of people managing projects must deal with unrealistic schedules very often. In my practice I use two tricks that usually work to ensure that the responsibility for rushing the project to proceed without proper preparation is transparent and lays with the sponsor.

Trick #1: Project Manager is not the author of project schedule.

When creating project schedule, the Project Manager is responsible for collecting the inputs from project team members, their estimations, their expert judgment and dependencies between tasks. In this way the Project Manager is not the owner of the timing required to deliver the project results but the team is. Only the team can be responsible for the schedule delivery because they are the ones who physically do the work that is needed. If the timing is too long, we may debate where schedule fast tracking or crushing can be applied. When we reach the limits of these methods it means that the project cannot be done in a shorter period of time. If the sponsor is not happy with the timing, he or she needs to convince the team and not the project manager.

Trick #2: Project Charter sign-off

Among many elements included in a project charter, one of the most important one is the risk analysis. For me the best source of risks is in the schedule. I ask myself: what if this resource is not available, what if they are late, what if the servers do not arrive in time and so on. If the sponsor’s appetite for fast tracking the schedule (doing tasks in parallel) is too high then it is obvious that the schedule and project in general becomes too risky. In this situation it is enough to ensure that the risks are clearly described, documented and legible for the sponsor. Having that just ask for the proper and public sign-off. At least you will be safe when the audit comes to review the project assumptions. You may, however, convince the sponsor on factual basis that the project is not realistic. Also, it is a good idea to ask the sponsor to present the project vision and benefits publicly during the project kick-off. No one wants to present nonsense publicly.

If you manage to chase the sponsor off his comfort zone then the project automatically becomes more pragmatic and realistic.

Nothing is too difficult for those who do not have to do it.

Find ways to involve your sponsor in an open and public decision making. No matter how urgent the project is hold back and do not start it without a formal sign-off of the basic project management elements such as:

  1. Project Scope and Statement of Work
  2. Delivery approach
  3. Funding sources
  4. Team resources
  5. Assumptions and Risks

If you hurry too early, it will be like going for a meeting without confirmation regarding the place, participants and subject. You will keep searching the meeting room, going back and forth and confusing the team but you won’t find it.

Bogdan Gorka is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) with more than 10 years of practical experience gained in the FMCG industry. Bogdan shares his IT project management experience in the blog: PMAdept.net

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