Delivering projects on-time and within budget is the ultimate goal for many project managers. However, when you look at it, this goal is unachievable.
The thing is managers believe that the secret is in specific tricks, tools, or “experience.”
That is wrong!
To deliver a project within budget and schedule, you need to understand what that really means. This article will shed some light on it.
I was in that mindset lock as well. I looked for new approaches and new software applications. I forced the team to keep to the schedule and do tasks in a strict order.
Changes. All my efforts were ruined by a new, unexpected change from the clients.
(Back then, it was a real challenge for me. I didn’t like changes.)
On the other hand, there was a fact I noticed.
In the end, most of the time, the client was happy even if we missed the deadline. It automatically meant we were over budget.
That made me think broader. Or should I say more flexible regarding “on time and within budget”?
I came to the following principles of management to keep stakeholders happy even within the hardest constraints.
1. Knowing the Project Goals and Constraints
When you are limited by time and costs. When you have a “must have” list of product features. When clients don’t want to give you an inch of breathing space…
The only thing that can help you is the project goal.
You can manipulate it in many different ways:
- “Do we need this change to meet the project goal?”
- “We need to de-scope this requirement; otherwise, we are risking to fail our primary goal.”
- “You (client) need to be more accessible. We have a lot of questions. Deadlines are near. We may miss our goal.”
The problem is many clients start a project without a final goal in mind. They just need a product or service created.
But they do not understand that there are hundreds of ways you can implement the same requirement.
To fix that, you need to create a Project Charter in the beginning. Or at least a basic version of it.
2. Negotiating Changes to Maximize Benefits
“Yes, John, I can see it is a crucial change to this feature.” We were on a conference call.
“It will bring so much value to your customers,” I stress this out in a dreamer’s voice. “But do you understand that means we will need to push the deadline for about three weeks? We can’t afford it. The deadline is on August 6.”
“I know, I know, Dmitriy. I remember I said that. But let’s push the deadline a bit. Make the change and send me the updated timeline.”
By knowing the goals of the project, you will also learn what benefits it will bring. Benefits to the client’s business, to the end users, to your company, and so on.
If you are in a tight spot for additional work, appeal to the benefits you will gain. It may help you to move deadlines or add more people to the project.
Talking about “more work to do” doesn’t have an impact on the client.
3. Focus on Creating Tangible Results
There are two crucially different situations:
- By the deadline, you have 100% of the original features implemented, but the product is not ready to go live. For example, because of defects or lack of sign-offs.
- By the deadline, you have 80% of the initial features ready and packed for the market. It is not perfect. But it is ready to earn money and deliver value to users.
Most of the clients would prefer to take the second option.
Agile methodologies nailed the needs of business correctly. They promise a “potentially shippable” product after each iteration.
However, if you are NOT agile, it doesn’t mean you can’t efficiently create quality products piece by piece.
But it’s easier than you think.
Pro Tip: You can always negotiate a minimal period of time you need to stabilize the product and prepare it for the hand-off. So, you can go to market with an interim version of a product rather “agilely”.
4. Communicate Small Increments of Changes
There is a famous saying:
“How does a project get to be a year late?… One day at a time.” – Fred Brooks
It has hidden wisdom in it.
You come to your client a week before the deadline. You say the project will be delayed for two more months. Your client is angry, frustrated, and fires you.
You come to the client and give her options, negotiate changes and risks just to get a week more. Then again. And again. You are two months behind the initial deadline, but everyone’s happy.
There is a limit to all of this, of course. In the end, they will blame you when they spend all the budgets.
Nevertheless, when you balance the additional benefits with extra costs and delay, you will be fine.
Do you still believe that you miss deadlines because of poor accuracy of estimates? Or are the requirements not precise? Are changes coming all the time?
“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable”
– Lucius Annaeus Seneca
If you don’t know the goals of the project.
If you don’t understand what benefits you need to provide.
If you don’t create something tangible, testable or shippable.
Is it really a problem of missing deadlines?