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Projects With No Dates
By Skip Reedy

In my previous article, “Why Project Management is Difficult“, I suggested that you execute your project plan without it displaying any dates. Why was that? Because people work to dates. If something must be done by the end of next week, most people will get it done by the end of next week, even if they could get it done tomorrow.

This is due to a Syndrome and a Law. The Student Syndrome that you probably practiced to perfection in a previous life, is still alive and well in your life today. You have so much going on that you can’t get going on the new task until you just have enough time to complete it.

If you are not quite that busy, Parkinson’s Law will help you to use all the time allotted even if it isn’t needed. First, there is no pressure. Next, taking your time will create a better result. Third, there is no point getting it done early because it isn’t needed or the recipient won’t be ready for it. Fourth, if you argued for extra time to complete it because stuff happens, you will look like you don’t know how to estimate. As humans, we are all about “Looking Good” and “Avoiding Looking Bad.”

The goal of meeting a due date with these two behaviors is an attempt to not be late or early. From the standpoint of an individual task, this may not a big deal. However, when there is a sequence of dependent tasks, it is very difficult to keep the overall duration under control. With normal variation, some tasks will be early, but not much if we work to the due date. With normal variation, some tasks will be late even if we work to the due date. This becomes a serious issue when a few tasks take significantly longer than the due date. There are very few tasks completing early to offset them. To be not early and not late with normal variation makes being on time problematic. In reality, it is not obvious and creeps into our lives as a nightmare. No wonder project managers are frazzled!

The standard approach to protect the project from this duration creep, is to put safety into the tasks. Mr Parkinson and Ms Student negate most of this protection. So we add more safety in the tasks. And more safety, and more.

Do you know the old sales mantra, “It’s okay if we lose money on each sale. We’ll make it up on volume.”

Try this one on, “It’s okay if my tasks have difficulty being on time, we’ll make it up later.”

Another solution must be used. Hence, a dateless plan.

Blasphemy 101 – NO Dates? That will make it worse, won’t it?

No Deadline, no pressure, no fire drills, no worries, no output!

Don’t stab me yet!

Tasks will have durations. We don’t know what they will be. In order to plan a project, we need (an estimate) to know how long they might take.

No Dates! Let’s try that again.

What would really help is to know about how long the task will take if the task isn’t started until all the needed inputs are available; the resources are reasonably capable of doing the work; they give the task their full attention; work quickly and diligently until it is complete. No blame. Ask for help, if needed. Hand it off when it’s done.

Once we decide on this number, this duration, we know one thing for certain about it. That is NOT how long the task will take. It will happen faster or slower, be interrupted, have accidents, delays, changes, illness, vacations and anything else that is possible.

That’s why we put in all that safety. And where did that safety get us? Struggling to be on time! So we have a problem. We know the tasks won’t get done according to the number (duration) we just chose. That number doesn’t have much wriggle room. We purposefully did not add safety in it. It should be just enough time if everything goes as planned. The likely hood is that the task will take longer than the number. We need safety, but safety in a task doesn’t solve the problem.

The real reason is that we think we need the safety to protect getting that task done on time. That’s not what we need it for. We need safety to get the project done on time.

We don’t need the safety in the task duration, we need the safety in the project duration.

We need safety to protect the project commitment date and we need our attention on getting tasks done quickly.

Next we need task estimates with just enough time to get them done in an imperfect world.

Skip Reedy is a Theory of Constraints Jonah and is TOCICO certified in Critical Chain Project Management. Visit his websites on CCPM:, and

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