On Time, Every Time

Imagine that you are waiting for your airline to leave. It is a cold and snowy night, and your flight is delayed once, twice, and then a third time. Finally, the plane leaves 4 and a half hours late. It doesn’t matter how excited you were about your trip, by the time you are in the air, you feel frustrated and anxious about getting this experience behind you.

As someone responsible for delivering a project, you might find yourself more often in the position of the airline company than you want to be. There are unexpected delays and unforeseen obstacles. Your boss might come to your desk and drop a load of urgent work off for you, just as you are about to spend some focused time on the project that you are working on.

Set Your Delivery Date

When you are given the project, the first thing that you must do is set the delivery date. Have all of the stakeholders, and especially the project sponsor agree on when this project will be complete. Since you have worked through your project charter, and a have a clear vision of the change that will be made through this project, you also know approximately what work will be required. Discuss the delivery date with your project sponsor, and impress on them the importance of defining this date.

If you don’t have a delivery date, you know that there is less commitment to change that the project is trying to deliver. If you have a toothache, you try to get to the dentist as soon as possible. If you have a funny rash, you might make an appointment with the doctor eventually, but for now, you’re willing to wait and see what happens. If the problem the project is solving is a toothache to your company, your project will have a definite delivery date.

Set Your Priority

Once you have agreed on the delivery date, have a conversation with your project sponsor about the level of priority that this project should be given. Is this a project that will come secondary to everything else, or is this a project for which you are expected to drop everything? Knowing how much of a ‘toothache’ this is to your boss will help you know whether you are going to bump other projects because of this request.

Manage Expectations

Managing expectations is the aspect of schedule management that often is missed. After you understand the delivery date and the priority, you must actively manage your sponsor’s expectations. There are a few scenarios that can happen:

  1. The project can be going well, so your boss may feel that you will be finished early. In this case, communicate that there may be some time needed for rework, or to address the issue at the end of the project.
  2. Another project may come up for you to work on. In this case, you need to communicate how the second project will affect the timeline (and possibly quality and budget) of the first project. New projects should be considered in light of how important the current project(s) is/are.
  3. Your project sponsor may have other priorities come up, and they may not be as available as they had hoped. In this case, you can discuss the connection points for your sponsor. Perhaps they don’t have to be part of all of the meetings, but only be part of the decision meetings. If they are unavailable but need to be part of everything, then you can share about how this will affect timelines.

Define, Prioritize, Communicate

If you want to be on time for every project, you must:

  • define the delivery date
  • understand the priority of the project
  • communicate regularly with the stakeholders who have an interest in the delivery date

With the delivery date continuously in front of you, you will find that it will be easy to meet your deadline.

Here’s to hoping your next flight is on time!