Author: Ing. Hector Boye, PMP

NUGGET 1 - Managing Projects With Unrealistic Deadlines

A project manager may occasionally be faced with what may be considered as an unrealistic deadline. You would need both soft and hard skills to deal with such situations. Under such circumstances it is needful for the project manager to start with finding out possible business reasons driving this.

Such information may be obtained from the project sponsor who should be aware of the issues determining the specified deadline. The sponsor may explain that an upcoming event required the product of the project. It is also known that, for example, there may be some event occurring that this project needs to support.

Your discussions may alternatively indicate the possibility of the deadline being a stretch objective intended to test the project team and having a corresponding award for the team. In this case, the understanding you receive would make it easier for you to motivate your team to achieve the deadline.

It is important to note that although you are being tasked with a deadline emanating from issues outside your control, the processes for managing the project are entirely within your control. It would be needful to keenly lookout for opportunities for improving the processes. Proactively tapping into the collective wisdom of your manager and project team could be key in identifying ways to speed up the project. Talking to them about the schedule and approach to project execution will get them interested to be part of the solution and thinking to generate ideas for accelerating the project.

Success at most of the afore-mentioned undertakings would be primarlly dependent on a project manager’s soft skills and emotional intelligence.

The second set of actions would rely very much and mainly on a project manager’s hard skills in project risk management, project scope management, project resources management and of course, project schedule management.

The deadline should be identified and managed as a project risk. It would be helpful for you to continue brainstorming sessions with the project team to identify additional risks using the previously determined root causes for the deadline and to conduct interviews with project participants, stakeholders, and experts. Some project stakeholder management is indicated here; where early in the project, risk

management is also used to better manage expectations. This exercise could highlight the possibility of the sponsor accepting a reduced project scope by temporarily dropping some features and functionality so that you can deliver the project within the deadline specified.

Having achieved this reduced scope, you must appreciate that the scope being managed going forward has zero tolerance. Any increase in scope must be appropriately associated with budget and timeline increases. Effectively managing scope is absolutely critical.

The next important assignment for you is to check if the available resources for the project are in alignment with the deadline. If not, the situation must be escalated to your manager for the resources to be increased. Although this may increase the cost of the project, this should be a viable option if the deadline is most important.

Finally, when the project enters execution phase, you and your project team must understand that with the deadline at risk at the start a project there is no margin for error in terms of time. The schedule should be managed diligently and aggressively. Missed deadlines must be treated as problems and you must work hard to solve the reasons behind the slippage; noting that most of these may have been addressed in the risk management plan. Any time schedule monitoring indicates that the project is a little behind, you should remember that this often happens in many projects and you must have confidence that the time can be made up later.

In summary, once a project manager understands the cause for the deadline date, there are project management techniques that can be utilized to increase the chances of success.