Though we all have the same amount of time, it just seems to slip by me faster than it does other people. It’s not that I’m lounging around smoking cigars, playing poker all night, and ignoring my work (okay, not usually). It’s that I take on much more than I should and everyone suffers. And the projects that I take on magically grow from cute, innocent endeavors into eight-armed monsters that crush my schedule over and over.
Project managers know—or should know—the iron triangle of project management (see Figure 1), sometimes called the triple constraints of project management because all projects are constrained by these three elements: time, cost, and scope. My nemesis is the angle on the left: time.
Figure 1: The iron triangle of project management shows all projects’ triple constraints.
Any project, from developing a new piece of software to building a new house, takes some amount of time. The relationships between the scope of the project, time, and cost should balance. If there’s not enough time or budget, the project is doomed. (No kidding.)
The real problem? Planning. Delegation. And learning to say no. First, we must define the product scope: the verifiable, tangible deliverables that make the customer happy (or happier, depending on the customer). Once all agree on the product scope, then it’s on to the project scope—all of the work and only the work to create the project deliverable. The product scope and the project scope are dependent on one another; if you change a detail in the product scope—gosh, the project scope will change, too. And these changes take time.
Now, sometimes I’m late and it just ain’t my fault. (Come on, I did say “sometimes.”) For example, I was working on a project for a company that couldn’t decide exactly what they wanted. It was like one of my usual dates: “I don’t know what I want, but this isn’t it.” We’d go round and round through feasibility studies, new versions of the training manual, class development, and more frustration—then they wanted to know whether I could still hit the target deadline for project completion. My mental response? “Yes, just as soon as I get back from my bike ride to Hawaii.”
On any given day the phone rings, email chimes, or the fax spits out some new request, and without thinking we say yes. That failure to think is killing us. A little change here, an addition there, and four or five new projects coming in; time disappears faster than a plate of donuts at a Weight Watcher’s meeting.
But this isn’t an article on how to whine. We’re all crushed for time; some of us just manage it better than others. When it comes to project management, I know that the time management discipline is my Achilles’ heel. In the past, I would gladly take on the work without thinking, planning, and delegating. But I’m getting better about it—I told someone no last week. It was sad and disappointing, but I can’t let things pile up anymore and current commitments slip by.
Joseph Phillips is the author of five books on project management and is a, PMI Project Management Professional, a CompTIA certified Project Professional, and a Certified Technical Trainer. For more information about Project Management Training, please visit Project Seminars.