Think Differently About Project "Crunch Time"

Project Practitioners > Think Differently About Project "Crunch Time"
By Margaret de Haan

So we have all been the lead on a Project that hit “crunch time” where everyone has borrowed a sleeping bag and planned on camping at the office 24/7 for a few days to make sure that the date is met, right?  Well I have been speaking to a number of individuals from different organizations at some of my networking events that I have attended recently, and one of the COO’s that I met came out with a revelation that I feel I just have to share even though it should be considered obvious.  In a discussion about the “Go Live Crunch”, he said “if my team is putting in a ton of overtime just before we go live with a Project, something is broken”.   I mean this is obvious, but it hit me as quite profound!  I realized that this was not only expected by some of the companies that I worked for, but that I had gotten used to this!  So as Project Managers, what can we do to better inform our Executives, and change the Project culture?

After sitting on this thought for a while, I realized that there are quite a few places where the failure could occur to cause this level of pressure at the “crunch”.  Scope creep was the first one that came to mind – even the slightest change at the end of a Project can end up being huge in terms of impact to the timeline, unit testing as well as just creating a lot of re-work for everyone involved once you get past the design stage.  My standard rule is that anything that is more than just a “text change” (and I am also including text volume in this consideration – large amounts of text changes can mess up the entire design layout) can have unforeseen consequences after the first pass of development.  Let’s face it, can we think of everything?  No, but I know I’m preaching to the choir that if the Project owner wants changes close to a go Live, they should either get placed in the next release, or they delay the release date.  We should all know by now that letting these slip in don’t do any service to anyone, when it threatens the quality of the deliverable(s).

Another huge issue is poor planning or task estimation.  Have you ever had a development resource (this usually happens with inexperienced Project resources that think that this will make them look like a superstar, or, they just stink at estimating) tell you that “I can name that tune in 1 note” even though you have a feeling that the task is much bigger than a breadbox and will require more than the level of effort that they quoted?  If you really feel that this is the case, you can always ask another resource that is more seasoned to give you their take on the effort required and start a discussion with design options.  I have always found that I would rather delay giving management the development schedule than be late with delivery.  In most cases, it is a much easier pill for the stakeholders to swallow.

Then there are the “surprises”; things that weren’t identified in planning or that just pop up because you are in unchartered territory.  In this instance I have found communication to be the key savior for these instances as everyone that has any stake at all in the Project needs to know the possible impacts to the time, resources and costs.  Being proactive is the only way to go, as surprises to the Project team must be managed, but surprises that can be viewed as negative in the eyes of the stakeholder can be Project, and in some cases, career killers.

I know that there can be about a million other reasons for a crunch of which I have listed only a few above.  I suppose that my point is that we as Project leaders should not allow this type of Project behavior to be an accepted norm, but something that indicates the need for thorough analysis to diagnose the underlying reasons for the event.  In my experience I have found that after a number of months or years (I think this has to do with the fact that we are all human, and that this is a human trait) that we spend in a new environment, that we assimilate into the culture and associate the culture and current state as “normal”.  Usually it takes either a concentrated effort or new blood to bring in new ideas and to force change.  Let’s not settle for the norm in all cases, but keep our eyes wide open for the opportunity to make positive changes that will make all of our lives easier, and that provide better value for our organizations.

 Margaret de Haan,  PMP, CSM, MBA,



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I'll never forget attending a conference and watching an exec/owner brag about having to tell his "dedicated" employees to go home at 4am and catch a couple of hours of sleep during scheduled crunches (yes, really), because they were just that into the work the company was producing. I was dumbfounded. So was his audience of fellow executives. Several panelists and audience members took him to task. But several more were admiring and wanted to know how they could inspire that much dedication in their staff. I wondered just how much quality they could be building into the work when people were designing features at the last minute while sleep-deprived.


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