~ By Kenneth Darter
By definition, every project has a finish date. How the project manager arrives at that date and how the project team comes to terms with the finish date can vary wildly from project to project. Nothing has more impact on the project team than the finish date, and there is nothing that can create more stress for the people doing the work than a finish date that is not understood and accepted by everyone. Coming to terms with the finish date, means getting buy off on the date from everyone involved in the project. They must believe the project can be done by that date. In general terms, there are three different ways the finish date on a project is derived, understanding them will help the team come to terms with the date.
When the finish date is handed down by management or the customer, the project manager has to deal with it and plan the schedule around the finish date. While this is not the ideal way of scheduling a project, it is all too frequent in the business world. If the project manager tries to push back, the customer might just decide to pick a different project team who will agree with the finish date. The finish date is the hardest date to come to terms with, as the team often has no clue where the date came from; maybe the CEO picked it at random, or perhaps a salesperson made a big promise to finalise the deal. The project manager must deal head on with the team and the reality of the schedule that will meet the date; they should understand what scope must be done and what is only nice to have, and they should know up front the effort and hours that will be required to meet the date. They should also understand the business need behind the finish date that has been handed down; despite appearances, this date is often not arbitrary, understanding will lead to acceptance. Simply asking, "why" may be the key to that understanding. Coming to terms with this date means dealing with the risks involved in trying to meet the forced deadline and carefully managing the scope of the project within the date constraint.
The exact opposite of the handed-down date is the project schedule date. This occurs when all work is plugged into scheduling software, the constraints are noted, and resources are assigned; then the analysis and the software tells you what date your project will finish. The project schedule date is possibly the easiest date to come to terms with if all the variables have been taken into account. If the schedule is built for sixty hour or eighty hour work weeks and tasks have been scheduled with no flexibility, then this date will be just as bad as an arbitrary date picked by someone with no working knowledge of the project. Coming to terms with this date involves the project manager, or the project scheduler doing their due diligence in creating a schedule that has a realistic date within the constraints of resources and scope.
The third way to get to a finish date is to negotiate a date with the customer or the client that is receiving the project work. Often, this negotiation will be between the handed down date and the scheduled date. While this date may not be as ideal as the date of the scheduling software, the project manager should be able to come to terms with it by making sure all the risks and problems associated with the handed down date are taken into account during the negotiation. Hopefully, after the negotiation, everyone will be happy with this date. Coming to terms with this date involves understanding what was gained and what was compromised by the negotiation.
What about you, our readers, how do you come to terms with finish dates for your projects? Let's discuss.