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Project Timelines – And The Lies We Tell
By Barney Austen

After years of project implementation in practically every field, the project time-line is the one thing that is consistently messed with. But why is this the case? Why do such a large number of projects fail to come in on time? We have tools and processes coming out of our ying-yangs and yet we still don’t manage to deliver when we say.

To me, the issue is nothing to do with tools or processes. The fault often lies with the end-customer over-demanding and the supplier over-promising to meet that demand. We’ve all done it and continue to do it on a daily basis.

Why?

To get the deal.

And what happens?

Under pressure project delivery teams, a customer who is highly frustrated and a timeline that doesn’t get hit as we all knew would happen.

Here’s a revolutionary idea – why don’t we all try to be honest with one another at the beginning of the timeline i.e. when we are generating the delivery plan.

Mr Customer – by all means push hard on the delivery time, but listen to your chosen partners when they tell you that it’s as tight as they can make it. They are not making it up, the chances are they’ve done it before and know where the time gets spent – including the fact that they have dependencies (in all probability)within your company.

Mr Business Owner – stop saying “ok” to every request to reduce the time-lines. When you know it’s as tight as it can be made, stand your ground. Be open and honest. Maybe even share the problems that your organisation will face if you bow in to their demands. Be bold.

But this is naive you say!

No, it’s not.

What happens when you shrink time-lines?

  • On paper, you shrink the delivery costs (less time=less manpower)
  • The selling price drops (because this is really what the customer is trying to get you to reduce).
  • Your costs are going to over-run.
  • You will lose money on the deal.

Unless you need the account as a “key client” or a reference site – you should not be doing the business, it’s that simple. Your P+L will thank you for it!

This is a two way party. If the customer and the project delivery team can reach a real time frame in advance, then the relationship and the project is far more likely to succeed. If the delivery team is put on the spot and an unrealistic time-frame is forced upon them, then the project will fail and the customer will be unhappy.

There is no simple answer to how to approach this and I’m not even going to try. My own approach is simply to be honest about what we will/won’t do and to work with the customer of that project (and it can be an internal customer as well as a paying one) to help them understand why the timelines are the way they are. If there is an absence of realism, walking away is the option that is taken. Reputation is vital and gets damaged in these scenarios.

What advice can you give?

Barney Austen is the founder of http://beta.myprojecttracker.com/ (still in Beta), an easy to use, cost effective, powerful tool to provide both business owners and project managers the key information needed to run their projects efficiently and effectively. Barney Austen’s passion is to help businesses through the provision of functionally relevant, but intuitive products. You can read more from Barney on his company’s blog, available here.

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