I've recently been thinking about time Project schedules, budgeting and goals. I recently got into an interesting argument with another Project professional about being "on time", and some very interesting thoughts came out in the debate. If you think back to what we were once taught about goals, they were supposed to be "SMART" - Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time sensitive. When you think about it, that's what our project plans and schedules are supposed to be - "SMART". Of course, we all want to be "on-time" and "on-budget", so we are under a fair amount of pressure to add a margin of error into both the Project budget and schedule to ensure our success. We all know that managing the stakeholder's expectations is key, so a little padding is good for everyone, right?
Well, if we put in some padding, complete a thorough risk management plan with contingencies that allow for adjustment of the budget and schedule, as well as have a documented change management process, how can we possibly not succeed? Looking at it this way, there has to be a complete screwup for the Project to fail (and we all know those do happen). We have communicated to everyone that any changes to the Scope change the timeline and monetary budget, so that means that we get to set new targets for delivery and dollars, which also offers us another opportunity for an adjusted margin of error. So how can we fail? It's easy in theory, right?
On the other hand, if we have to adjust the timeline at all, in some people's eyes, we've failed. So following this train of thought, there can be no risks realized, no changes made, no mistakes or problems with materials, or the Project will not be on-time or on-budget. Therefore the opportunity to succeed is so small as not to be measurable. This is especially true if there has been no margin of error in either the schedule or budget, so being realistic (part of being SMART) is a bad thing. BUT, that's pretty much impossible, so therefore unreasonable, and we can choose to ignore those who are unreasonable…at least I do (or try, anyway).........right?.
So we either can't win or can't lose, it's all in the way you look at it. My experience is that reality is somewhere in the middle between a guaranteed success and an inevitable failure, however, as we are responsible for setting the tone of the Project, as well as managing how and what is communicated to the Project community, we have the power. Did you get that last part….WE have the power! So with our knowledge, skills, and our incredible ability to concurrently juggle balls, eggs and chainsaws, we are the true masters of our fate. So let's just try to remember that. Yes there's politics and pain and garbage that goes along with the job, but let us all not forget that we have the most control over anyone else over the Project, and if we are capable and confident, then there's no reason we can't succeed. That's the way I'm choosing to look at it, and since I'm the Project Manager, I can make myself right!
Margaret de Haan