To paraphrase Stephen Covey “project managers do it backwards”

Before you jump to conclusions, I mean project managers “start with the end in mind,” one of the habits Dr. Stephen R. Covey identified in his wildly successful book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. And, the “end” we think about as PMs, is the “end date” of the project.

Why? Because when we are called into the boss’s office and are assigned a project we are basically told what the project is and that it needs to be finished by a date certain. Rarely, at least in my 38+ years in project management, are we called in and assigned a project and then asked to estimate the completion date. This is especially the case if you are a PM in an organization where the sales folks “sell” the project to a client and have already committed to an end date for delivery. Then it’s thrown “over the wall” to the project manager to get it done. I worked in an organization like this for more than 22 years and I consulted with scores of clients who had the very same environment.

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So, what most of us do is we take the end date and schedule backwards to today’s date. When we do this we either do all the resource leveling either in our heads, or through some PPM software, but in the end we come up with the resources we need in order to do it by that end date. When we tell the boss (or the Sponsor, or Governance Committee) the resources we’re going to need to meet the end date they reply: “Well, we don’t have all those resources so you have to figure out a way to deliver with limited resources by the date agreed. The client is expecting it and it is written in the contract.” Sound familiar?

Are there ways out of this dilemma? Well, one way I employed is to identify the resources required to meet the date knowing that I won’t get them. Then I start laying out alternatives that usually deal with some type of de-scoping the project to meet the date and engage in some pretty serious conversation about what exactly has been promised or expected. This is an area where a project manager can usually buy some time. Then, I carefully watch the schedule and if I don’t think I’m going to make it, I let everyone, and I mean EVERYONE know as soon as possible (Of course, I have regular meetings with everyone throughout the project to make sure they all know with sufficient lead time.)

What about you? How do you deal with this situation?

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 11.18.19 AMBy the way, Covey’s book is celebrating it’s 25 birthday. It was, and continues to be enormously popular on a worldwide scale. How popular? It remained on the NY Times Bestseller list for 220 weeks. Moreover, it helped Covey become a household name in the business world building his influence and author career and helped spawn a training company  (Franklin Covey) worth $200 million. It has also become one of the most widely leadership books in history. Most leadership books are published and then fizzle out. Covey tapped into a leadership approach that was genuine and that resonated with everyone up and down the ladder. I read it and enjoyed it. Maybe you did too. If you did, what was the “habit” that resonated with you the most?

 

 

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