“Dear Elizabeth: I am working with a group of very knowledgeable subject matter experts. They have 15-20+ years of experience in the field, many of those years in our company. We cannot deliver our technology project without them. They are experts in the field, but they are really bad at forecasting time, work effort, and even identifying the tasks that need to be completed. The more I ask them to consider what needs to be done, the more they push back, saying that on past projects they were made to adhere to impossible deadlines. But without any guidance from them about how long things will take, we are at risk of my management team deciding on a delivery date for us. How can I get them to help me put together a project schedule?”
I understand why people who have been burned in the past are reluctant to commit to project delivery dates, but you can’t plan a project without some idea of how long things will take.
Let’s look at some practical things you can do to create a project schedule to share with your management team.
1. Use past projects
It sounds like getting information out of these team members is going to be a challenge, so why start from nothing? If they are experts in their field, they are likely to have contributed to many projects in the past. Call up those project schedules and look at what activities they were responsible for. That could be the starting list for this technology project.
Use the task list from an old project as the starting point for a discussion about today’s work. Are the tasks the same? What needs to be different? Did you manage to deliver to these timescales last time or should we allow more time? Frame the conversation as being about learning from past experiences to improve project performance this time around. If they’ve been in the company for a long time, they should have experiences and historical information to share.
Sometimes people are anxious when they are looking at a blank piece of paper – although that’s often a response to being new in post and not exactly sure what to do. Part of me thinks that your colleagues simply don’t want to be held accountable, and we’ll come on to that.
2. Schedule the uncertainty
One of the challenges you are facing is that they don’t want to commit to dates, and you need dates. So let’s be pragmatic and factor their uncertainty into your schedule.
We can do that with probable start and finish dates, which gives us a range of time during which the task will be completed. There isn’t a fixed start and end date, but there is a window of time for the work to be done. You can demonstrate this on a Gantt chart as well.
This approach to scheduling gives you ranges rather than precise dates and is going to make them feel more comfortable because they won’t feel pinned down.
Where the uncertainty comes from doing something brand new that hasn’t been done before, then it often is impossible to estimate with any sense of accuracy. However, you can record that in the risk log and allow contingency time (and funds) to address thatContinue reading