By melinchina on Oct 09, 2006
Someone asked me recently, "What do you do when a project gets behind schedule?", and it's prompting me to write one of my rare \*work-related\* blogs.
When a project gets behind schedule you have to figure out what the root cause or causes are, and you and your team address them. You try to get back on schedule by adjusting either your scope, feature, resources or in some cases your quality dial. If you can't get back on schedule by adjusting those dials, then hopefully there's some slack somewhere in your schedule that you can start eating into. If none of this works, you have to make that painful walk into your director's or VP's office and explain what's going on and what your options are. You tell them what your team recommends. You want to make sure they know what's caused the slip, but at the same time make sure they know that you as the program manager are ultimately responsible for it. Be ready for questions about why your risk analysis didn't identify this schedule slip ahead of time. It stinks, totally.
But wait - dealing with a slip is actually the easy part! The hard part is - knowing that your project is getting behind schedule! Here are some reasons that can be hard:
1. One of your team members is getting behind schedule but doesn't realize it, or they think you won't realize it.
2. Someone is getting behind schedule but they think they can catch up, and they don't want to alarm you or the team.
3. Someone is getting behind schedule but they don't tell you because they think the schedule is bogus and that everyone is playing "scheduling chicken".
4. Someone is getting behind schedule but they don't feel comfortable talking about it openly with the team.
5. Your schedule milestones are open to interpretation and people are interpreting them differently.
There are a few ways to try to address these issues.
1. Get everyone's buy-in on the schedule at the beginning of the project. Make sure you have explicit understanding, agreement and commitment from each team member and their management.
2. Show that you have faith in the schedule. Set the tone for the team that you take it seriously and that you'll hold everyone accountable for meeting their commitments.
3. Make sure schedule milestones are clear and quantifiable. For example if you have build for "Stopper bug fixes only", make sure your team understands what the criteria are for a stopper bug and make sure they know the process you'll follow to make that determination for each bug.
4. Treat everyone in the team with respect and encourage them to be reasonable and fair with each other. If you and your team can't create a good team atmosphere, #4 above will bite you again and again.
5. Get to know each of your team members early on and ask questions about exactly what they'll have to do to meet their commitments to the team. Try to gain their trust so they won't hide information from you as the project progresses. And learn enough about what they're doing so that if they do get behind schedule, it won't be easy to hide it from you.
6. Develop an especially strong relationship with your downstream stakeholders. Technical writers, localization team, manufacturing counterparts. They will see the project from a totally different perspective than you and they are often the first ones to detect that a project is getting behind schedule. Make sure they feel comfortable enough to share that information with you, and make sure you reward their trust by taking action when they alert you to something that's going awry.
In the end if your project is getting behind schedule, the sooner you can figure that out the more options you'll have. So make it a priority to keep your finger on the pulse of your team's schedule.