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Planning from Left to Right
By Kerry Wills

With most projects, we get handed a date that we have to work towards and told to make it work. I call this managing from “right to left” which means we start with the chronological end dates (on the right side of the Gantt) and try to work backwards. This works sometimes as once in a while we get lucky and are able to make it work. But because complexity and size of programs has grown exponentially, it is more likely that this method of planning doesn’t work and inevitably results in one of two outcomes…

  1. The date gets met but because of rushing, quality suffers and there is a lot of fallout.
  2. The team gets to a point where it is not possible to meet the schedule and scope winds up pushing out.

I believe that realistic plans go from “left to right” and are based on practical start dates combined with effort/duration which then predict the end dates.

The key is to make this fact-based planning with such facts as deliverable start dates, duration, and dependencies. Then when these get laid out a PM can demonstrate the critical path and schedule milestones which demonstrate a realistic/credible plan. It also helps because if there are delays, this model can then show the updated dates. This approach does require leadership courage to push back but I think it is better to have hard conversations early on around a realistic plan than to get into a problem and have to have harder conversations later (and, BTW, you will still wind up delivering in the same timeframe that was originally planned).

Kerry Wills is a proven Program Manager/Portfolio Manager with an extensive background in Project Management, consulting, and application development. Kerry has consistently demonstrated the ability to plan and implement large and complex projects on time and on/under budget. Kerry runs a blog, Adventures in Project Management.

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