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Just a Little Late

WatchHey! Lay off! My post is here, isn't it? Oh sure, it's minutes before November ends. Big deal! Why are you being so rough on me? I'm not "technically" late.

Hmmm... sound familiar?

In project management, late tasks happen. A lot. More than most project managers care to have them happen, anyway. We work with our teams. We communicate. We build grandiose project plans. And the task is still late. And we wind up with egg on our face with our executives and our customers.

But how does a project manager prevent it from happening?

Well, the first step is figuring out WHY it happens in the first place. A few years ago, Samuel Okoro published a great blog post on project task tardiness. Some of his top reasons:

  • Estimates - because our "best guesses" are padded with contingency due to the task uncertainty, we're already shooting blindfolded.
  • Students' Syndrome - procrastination... enough said.
  • Parkinson's Law - work expands to fill the space allotted to it.
  • Integration - making sure all of the predecessor tasks are done on time so your task can start.

Sure, there are others. But these give you a pretty good idea why our projects don't get done on time. That last one is especially difficult, when you consider the compounding effect of one late task.

But how do we prompt task completion punctuality? Here are a few good tips:

  • Schedule tasks into your calendar
  • Be a time pessimist
  • Prioritize
  • Be honest with yourself

Those are great ideas for the project team member working on the task. What about the project manager who has oversight? A couple of my approaches are as follows:

  • Schedule ahead - I avoid surprises by giving my staff a look-ahead report of tasks coming up in the next 2-4 weeks as well as the current week, so they are always looking at the present and the near-term future.
  • Work weekly - Don't be a micromanager. Let your team know what's due that week and on what day. If it's on the critical path, then you can show a little more due diligence in following up; otherwise, leave them alone and trust them to do the work. If the task is completed within the week it was assigned to be done, I'm not going to ask if it completed exactly on the day it was supposed to be done.
  • Public accountability - if at the end of the week, the task is incomplete and there is no good reason (or change request) to push the date back, publish the late task list (along with accountability) and share with everyone shy of CNN. I've found this to be a great motivator, as nobody wants to see his or her name associated with a late task.

Your job as a project manager is to maintain your credibility through building a culture where "late" is not acceptable... even a little late.

(Reprinted from a post at Iowabiz)

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