Project Management - Preventing Project Slips

Can Project Managers prevent projects from slipping?

Ask a techie to come up with a schedule for a specific list of activities, and more often than not, he/she will present a fairly accurate estimate. Some activities might be underestimated, others overestimated, but overall, the plan will be fairly accurate.

However, something happens to these estimates between the time the techie writes them down and the time the Project Manager publishes a baseline project schedule. That "something" is why projects slip.

Projects tend to slip for two reasons. Either Project Managers don't account for derivative activities such as vacation days when planning the overall project schedule, or they simply succumb to the pressure from management to compress the schedule.

The case surrounding derivative activities is well documented here or on The Project Mangler (www.projectmangler.com), so I won't spend any more time on it. The case surrounding management pressure is not.

Management Pressure

Assuming your techies have estimated each task and that you've considered derivative activities, your project schedule should be accurate. Aggressive, but realistic.

Now, present this schedule to the management team, and 8 times out of 10, the feedback you'll get is "that's too late". Eight times out of ten, you'll be asked to revise the schedule and shorten it.

Project Managers are all too familiar with the project triangle. We know we can shorten a schedule by either (a) reducing the scope of the project, or (b) adding more resources to it. Unfortunately, management either hasn't seen that triangle or, more likely than not, simply chooses to ignore it.

Consequently, Project Manglers who are more interested in pleasing upper management than keeping honest have come up with their own universal algorithm for shortening project schedules. Take the number of days that need to be cut from the schedule, divide it by the number of major milestones, and then deduct that number from the duration of each milestone. In other words, if a project comprising of 4 major milestones is estimated to last 6 months, but you need to reduce it by one month, you'd take 20 days, and divide it by 4. Take the answer (5), and deduct it from the duration of each milestone. And voila! Works every time.

And at the end of the project, either your techies save the day (by working evenings or weekends) or the project slips.

Conclusion

Can Project Managers prevent projects from slipping? Absolutely. Just stop publishing overly optimistic schedules.

1. Get your techies to help estimate the duration of each development task.

2. Add time to the overall project schedule to account for derivative activities.

3. Don't succumb to pressure from management

And last but not least?

4. Stick to the basic principles behind the project management triangle. In other words, don't be a Project Mangler.

Luc K. Richard is the founder and editor of The Project Mangler, a Web site dedicated to turning techies into managers. He invites you to visit http://www.projectmangler.com to download articles, project management tools, templates and checklists.

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