This is an extract from Project Pain Reliever. I contributed two chapters and they are being serialised here over a month. Last week’s extract was about the issues and warning signs related to planning on your own. If you find yourself in a similar situation, here’s what you can do about it.
What should I do?
Get the key members of your team altogether to work out a new, realistic plan and schedule that they can all buy into. Acknowledge that your current working plan is no good and that you need to set a new baseline against which to track progress. Essentially, you are starting to plan this project from scratch, and you need their help.
Document all the tasks
As a group, review all the work breakdown structures and plans you have so far. The person doing a job will have a better understanding of what it actually involves than you ever will. So let them tell you what is required to get the task done. What is missing from the original plan? How does the task break down into sub-tasks? If you can, delegate the creation of sub-plans to the workstream leaders.
The aim here is to get a comprehensive list of what needs to be done to achieve the project’s objectives. Rely on your experts to help you develop this list – it will help them feel more accountable for the deliverables, and more comfortable with the overall plan.
Understand the dependencies
Once you know what needs to be done, it is time to start putting the tasks in order to create the schedule. Dependency management is important here. Again, rely on the experts in your team to help you build the dependencies into the schedule. Take into account:
- What order do the tasks need to be completed in?
- What tasks can be run in parallel?
- What can be started early?
- Who needs someone else to have finished before they can start?
- What needs to finish at the same time as something else?
Once you understand the order of tasks and their dependencies you can start putting in some dates.
Create the schedule
The team didn’t think much of the original schedule you created, so this time ask them for their input. They have probably spent more time carrying out this type of work, and unless it is a unique project or they are very new to their job they are likely to have done it before. Given all their experience, they should be able to come up with some realistic estimates for timeframes for all the tasks on the plan.
There is no harm in challenging some of the dates – you don’t want the team to be able to pull the wool over your eyes. As the project manager you should find a balance between making up the milestone dates yourself and allowing the team to define their own dates so far in the future that they all get to work half days and the project takes ages to complete. Work together to create stretching but achievable target delivery dates. And put some contingency time explicitly in the schedule if you are worried that there is a degree of uncertainty in the estimates.
Finally, it’s time to present your new schedule to your Sponsor. It is highly likely that the result of doing this exercise is a project that will finish later than you originally had in mind. It’s difficult to tell a Sponsor that your initial estimates were wrong. However, what you now have is a project plan that you can believe in, deliver to and that is backed by all the members of your team. That’s the message to give your Sponsor.
You know you are in a good place when…
You know you’re in a good place when:
- You have a comprehensive list of tasks for the project.
- You understand the dependencies between tasks.
- You have worked with your team to set realistic estimates for the duration of these tasks.
- You have built a credible schedule with input from your team.
You are not the expert when it comes to carrying out the work for each of these tasks – so draw on the expertise in the team and involve team members when producing a plan and schedule. You will get better buy in from the team as a result, and everyone will have more confidence that the project will deliver on time.
Project Pain Reliever, edited by Dave Garrett, is published by J. Ross and is available on Amazon.