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Schedule Game #10: We’ll Know Where We Are When We Get There (#10 in the series Schedule Game)
By Johanna Rothman

One of my clients claimed he had ADHD. He had trouble keeping projects focused on one goal. I’ve known him for a while, and he didn’t have this problem when he was a project manager. Nope, he made sure that each project he managed had a goal, and beware any senior manager who wanted to change that goal. But when he moved into senior management, he had trouble allowing the projects to finish, focused on one goal.

This schedule game occurs when senior managers change the goals of a project, or have a great idea that changes what the project is supposed to deliver, or when someone derails the project. I’ve seen unseasoned project managers derail the project in the same way that a senior manager does. “Oh, look over there. Doesn’t that look like a great idea? Let’s do that.”

This schedule game is sometimes called “Chasing Skirts”, a particularly un-politically correct name! The chasing skirts name arose from this story: A number of years ago, my husband came home from work disgusted. He said, “They won’t decide on a product. They’re chasing skirts.” Mark doesn’t usually speak like that, so I asked him for an explanation. “They won’t focus on something we can do. It’s like they’re waiting for the next pretty girl to come along. It’s like they’re dating her for a while, but if another pretty girl comes along, they’ll drop the first one and move on to the next one. In the meantime, we’re not working on a product we could actually deliver.”

No matter what you call this schedule game, the effect is the same. The project doesn’t stay focused on a product the team could deliver. It keeps changing focus. The last time I consulted on a project like this, one of the senior managers said to me soothingly, “We’ll know where we are when get there.”

Not in my experience. Keeping a project focused on its goal(s) is the fastest way to finish a project. Allowing a project to lose focus will prevent it from finishing for a very long time, possibly forever.

Some ideas to consider:

  • If you’re a PM, make sure you’ve written a project charter with project goals and release criteria.
  • If the project is “too long,” organize the project into iterations. Evaluate where you are after each iteration. If you’ve accomplished enough of the goals, end this project and start another.
  • If you’re an unseasoned project manager, make sure you know what the goals are, keep the project staff focused on the goals, and consider iterations.

Sometimes, none of these possibilities help, because management interferes with the PM, working around the PM to assign other work to the project staff. If that’s happened to you, talk to your managers and explain how you will benefit them. If they don’t listen, or can’t stop their behavior, remember you don’t have to stay there.

Projects need crisp goals and everyone to continually focus on those goals. Don’t let anyone allow your project to drift. You won’t know when you get there. All you’ll know is that you’re not anywhere.

Johanna Rothman consults, speaks, and writes on managing high-technology product development. Johanna is the author of Manage It!’Your Guide to Modern Pragmatic Project Management’. She is the coauthor of the pragmatic Behind Closed Doors, Secrets of Great Management, and author of the highly acclaimed Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds: The Secrets and Science of Hiring Technical People. And, Johanna is a host and session leader at the Amplifying Your Effectiveness (AYE) conference (http://www.ayeconference.com). You can see Johanna’s other writings at http://www.jrothman.com.

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