We’ve all been there. “Here’s a project. It needs to be done in three months!” You get that sinking feeling that you are already late and you don’t even know what it is that the project is trying to achieve.
How do you handle these situations?
In my experience, the worse thing you can do as a project manager is accept the dictated date. By doing that you are just delaying the inevitable. You’ll be late and then you’ll be in even more trouble for not raising it earlier. So, just say no!
Yes, Jose, and that advice plus a quarter would buy you a cup of coffee a few years ago. Easier said that done.
Here are some things I’ve done. I am interested in hearing your experiences. Post it here or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Option one: say yes while at the same time indicating that it won’t happen. It takes some guts, but it is doable. When I first started leading the Intel Inside ® Program system, my boss, who was also my customer (talk about being in a tough situation), told me that the system needed to be ready and in production in three months! I had just started; there were no requirements; marketing, a key future user of the system, kept changing its mind; I had no staff, etc. So, I said, “Yes, ma’am, but it won’t happen. The simplest system takes three months and this is not simple.”
Option two: build a case for how long it is going to take. There are a couple of approaches here. You can explain it directly or do it indirectly. When I held the first map day for my current program, I asked the customer to tell us when they wanted the system to go live. We posted that information on the map and then I turned to the Director and said “thank you. Now let’s see what we can do.” We then proceeded to build the IT deliverables starting from the present and going forward. As the deliverables kept adding up, it became obvious to our customer what needed to be done to provide what he wanted. It was difficult to argue for the earlier date once everyone knew the amount of work that needed to be done. Or you can do it directly by telling the customer all the work you have to do. Unfortunately, they are usually not interested so I recommend the indirect approach.
Option three: get other stakeholders who see your point of view to work on the recalcitrant stakeholder. They can explain why it will take as long as it is going to take. In the Intel Inside Program system I had a related situation. The same customer wanted everything delivered in one shot (remember Big Bang?) I worked with some of my peers to convince her that it would be more beneficial to deliver a partial capability sooner than wait until everything was done. This technique is very useful as you build strong stakeholder relationships in support of your project.
Option four: get someone higher up the organization to explain it. Your boss may have a better relationship than you have with the customer and may be able to do the explaining. Or maybe someone in the customer’s organization gets it. This is a variation of option three.
So, how do you do it? I’m sure you have other approaches. Let’s hear them!
Jose Solera, MBA, PMP