Handling the speed-bumps in a project schedule (Part I)

Corporate Exit Strategist for the blooming entrepreneur and business coach.

Last week I was taping a series of lectures for the Sequel Server World Wide User Group (SSWUG.org), and I was asked “how does a project manager handle items that causes us to miss deadlines?”

This is an interesting question, because every project will have speed bumps.  A good project manager expects speed-bumps and actually plans for the unexpected.  So – how does one do this intelligently to synchronize with the final delivery dates?

There are several tools in the good project manager’s arsenal:

  1. Acknowledging the natural ebb and flow of a project
  2. Recovery Protocol
  3. Critical Path Analysis

The next three articles will cover some high-level points of the above:

Acknowledging the natural ebb and flows:

Acknowledging the natural ebb and flows, the peaks and valleys, and the seasons of every endeavor is the first step.   Since every project in the past has had problems or issues that have temporarily derailed the plan, there is no reason to believe that your next project won’t have something unexpected occur.  This recognition is a power tool.  If you can recognize and acknowledge this, you can plan and manage.

Some examples:

The development team on Project A is hitting a road block.  Although the development team is doing everything they can do resolve the issue, the test team is waiting on code to test and the documentation team has nothing to write about.  Others developers are waiting for this feature or code library to continue their work.  And as everyone is waiting, the project time clock is still ticking.  How does the project manager stay on schedule?

The good project manager will have a recovery plan already in mind.  He will move some isolated “later” scheduled items up on the schedule.   He plays around with time.  For instance:

  1. Even though there isn’t any code to test, the testers can be building the system test lab.  Although that was a later task, it is isolated and can be moved up,  to save time at the end.
  2. Developers not working on the problem, can be working on the backlog of defects.  There are always lower severity level defects that need to be corrected.  Many severity 3 and 4 defects (even though they are lower severity) have an affect on usability and therefore impact on the clients’ perception of quality.  Fixing these level defects early in the development cycle will improve the perceived usability of the product.
  3.  The testers can be assisting developers with their unit testing on the backlog of defects.
  4.  Documentation team can be writing user case test scenarios, which can later be used in their User Manuals.
  5.  Testers can assist with the test-driven development features.
  6. Tech writers can assist with writing more accurate and instructional error messages and dialogues.

Conclusion:
A good project manager doesn’t try to control a project.  A good project manager adapts and manages the natural flow of things.  The trick isn’t to stay on track.  That is pretty much an impossible request.   The skill is to seamlessly get back on track when we wax and wane.

The next feature will cover the idea of a recovery protocol chart.

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