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Avoiding Project Delays for Fall
By Jerry Bishop

August is often the calm before the storm for campus IT departments. Summer sessions are wrapping up and there are about 30 days until the fall term begins. Like many CIO’s, your project management system reflects ambitious project schedules for the summer to take advantage of everyone being away and the availability of funds from your new budget. It is during this time of year project management controls often get relaxed causing unnecessary project delays on the critical path to preparing for fall classes.

Project Management

To avoid project delays and failing on important project deliverables CIO’s are better served using this time for a serious gut check on the status of the critical path for the start of classes. This is an important time for meeting with your team to review the gantt chart and any factors that might cause project delays so that you can be assured they are focused on the right project deliverables. In the event they are not, you will still have time to implement appropriate risk mitigation strategies and complete the required project deliverables.

Sounds intuitive right? Wrong. All too often managers take a casual project management approach to project schedules and don’t have realistic understandings of when project deliverables really need to be ready and the resource staffing required to get there.

If you are not careful one of your teams might be focused solely on the date the fall semester starts. For some that is August 29th while others it could be September 5th. Under this scenario, focusing on the semester start date might have them thinking they have about a month to wrap things up.

This is dangerous thinking that adds additional risk given they really have to count work days if you want them to have the right urgency in the project schedules for getting things ready. Remember, students return to campus ahead of classes for orientation and fall sports and faculty will begin showing up in numbers ahead of the scheduled in-service.

Project Timeline

One good way to avoid a project management disaster is to lay out the critical path timeline with your team starting at the end points and work backwards. Be pragmatic which means being realistic and practical in an honest way. You have to include buffer days where nothing is scheduled where you can take care of the unknowns. Include the major events for each user group to be sure your milestones are properly sequenced with dependencies.

The beauty of this approach is its simplicity. You don’t need fancy project management tools or even a gantt chart, just a marker or two and an eraser. Start tomorrow by bringing in some jelly doughnuts and brew a fresh pot of coffee for a meeting with your team around a white board to lay out the critical path to accomplishing the summer project schedules. Add a punch list of task assignments as issues surface. Ideally you should leave it on the board and start a morning standup meeting with your team to keep focus and improve coordination. If not, have someone make a simple gantt chart of the critical path and a of copy the task assignments for key project deliverables.

I learned early on to always expect the worse so I am not disappointed. That approach is really a derivation of the project management advice from one of my first managers who used more salty language to convey the idea. But no matter how I say it, it has served me well over the years in project management by helping me avoid missing project deliverables or project delays from overconfidence or oversight. It is also extremely useful in ensuring my team is focused on the critical path by doing the right things first in tune with broader priorities.

So be sure to take stock of where you are today in your project schedules and just how much time you really have left to complete your project deliverables in order to have things ready. For many, you probably only have 17 workdays or so before classes resume, less for students to be on campus. If you are lucky to have a start date after Labor Day, you may have an additional 4 days. Factoring for some time off, the calls from the provost and the unknowns it probably means you have about 14 working days left – which means it is time to get crack’n.

Jerry Bishop is a transformational leader in technology and IT service delivery. He is exceptionally skilled at leading or coaching others in rapidly turning around under-performing IT departments. He does this by developing tactical plans that address underlying financial and operational issues while refining the IT strategy into an executable plan for supporting the organization’s priorities. This approach includes an IT Governance model tailored to each client’s unique culture and goals. You can read more from Jerry on his blog.

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