Why Backing In Is NEVER A Good Idea

The year is almost over, and the holidays are upon us. I know many of you are thinking about shopping, and seeing the crowded parking thoughts, with cars tightly packed, you’re probably thinking:

  • “If I don’t back into the parking space, it may take forever to get out of it.”
  • “Backing into parking spaces terrifies me! I haven’t done it since driver’s ed!”
  • “Forget it. I’m just going to circle the lot until a better spot opens.”

To alleviate some of your fears, I’m not actually talking about parking at all, but rather project timelines. How many of us have worked on a project where someone says “This project must be done by XX date. Do what is necessary to get it done.” This is the WRONG way to plan a project. Projects are a balancing act, but more importantly, they should be planned from beginning to end, not the other way around.

There are three fundamental legs in the project management triangle to achieve Quality:

  • Cost
  • Time
  • Scope

Like a triangle, if you stretch or shrink one leg, the others are affected. Increasing the cost (i.e. bringing in outside help) may decrease the time. Shortening the time of the project may impact scope, since there will be less time to complete the project requirements. As I said, it’s a balancing act.

However, the last thing you want to do is set an arbitrary date and then force fit the project to meet the timeline. I have been on several of those projects, and I can tell you first hand, it never works. Deadlines will be missed. Quality will decline as corners are cut. In the end, an inferior product is created. To put it into reality, would you want someone to build your car, or an airplane you flew on, in a rushed manner? What if they didn’t run the final check to ensure everything was tightened down properly due to lack of time?

How do you fight against this? Like everything else in business, it’s a process.

  • Gather the requirements: What needs to be created/modified.
  • Create the plan: What needs to be done to create the end product.
  • Set realistic timeframes for each task: Don’t overschedule tasks so that you are planning to work 24/7 to make the goal. Be realistic. In fact, be pessimistic, and add a percentage of the hours to each task as a “buffer”, just in case. Emergencies always arise that take priority.
  • Work the plan: You have a plan created…now execute it.
  • Test and make modifications: You likely won’t get it right the first time. Make sure you plan for rework.
  • Go-live: You have the end product, and it is time to roll it out.

Now, with luck, you planned your project so that the go-live date matches your estimated schedule. If so, congratulations! If not, take it as a learning experience, and you can learn to better estimate next time.

I know some of you are saying “That’s great, but my customer gave me the deadline, and I don’t have a choice!”. As the saying goes, “there are always choices in life”. Have a matter-of-fact conversation with your customer, and show them the plan. Explain the criticality of each step. Many times, that knowledge transfer will go a long way, and you will learn that the original deadline was just an arbitrary date that was derived. It is better to have the discussion up front than half way through the project, or worse, during the last week.

Good luck with your next project planning session, and remember to drive forward, don’t back in!

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