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Project Management: Episode 3.75: Meeting your Deadline

COW Blogs : Mike Cohen's Blog : Project Management: Episode 3.75: Meeting your Deadline

Cue Dramatic Music

It is a dark time for the rebellion. Or so you think.

At first glance, a new project may seem daunting.

You get a call - the client likes your proposal. Let's do it.

Great, you say, glad to be working with you.

The client signs the SOW and you're off and running.

The what?

SOW = Statement of Work

Whether a one-page summary of the work to be done, roles and responsibilities, or a multi-page contract with some legal gobbledeegook if that is the format you or they are required to follow, you basically need to put in writing the expectations. But read the contract, especially if you didn't write it.

Your job as Project Manager, or PM, is to Manage Expectations.

Let the client know what they will see - before they see it.

When they give you feedback, positive, negative or a combination (constructive feedback) tell them what they will see next, when and and in what form. Manage their expectations.

Then, of course, you need to deliver on those expectations, or come close along with a list of why's and why not's.

Part of your SOW is what you will deliver, and approximately when you will deliver it.

Also specify, if relevant, what the client will deliver to you, in order for you to deliver what you said you would deliver. Or specify, whether by sequential dates, deliverables or more specific details if required, tasks that rely upon one person before another. These are called Dependent Tasks. I can't design the interface until Wedge gives me the logo and the corporate image guidelines. Then I need to design the interface, get it approved by the client, before Biggs can program the prototype.

Meanwhile, you need to perhaps manage assets coming in from the far reaches of the galaxy, whether by freighter (mail) or sub-space transmission (e-mail) or perhaps stored in the memory bank of your astro droid (FTP).

So you know what you have to do and approximately how you will do it. Time to gather the troops and put the plan into motion.

This briefing may be formal or informal, one-on-one or in the board room. Sometimes the board room is known as the bored room. In other words, keep meetings to a minimum and as brief as possible. Everyone is busy - hopefully busy doing the tasks in this or another project.

Speaking of which, when you setup your timeline, include some buffer, or wiggle room. If you know it will take roughly 80 hours to do the work, don't schedule this 80 hours into exactly 80 hours of available time. Build in some breathing room, say 90 or 100 hours. This lets you keep tabs on other projects and keep other clients as happy as this new client is going to be. Also this gives you that extra time at the end if you need it. And you could almost always use a few more hours. You're human after all.

As part of your SOW and before that, a kick-off meeting, you have also defined the end-date when the project is needed. This end date should take into account the end goal. The end goal is not the product - it is the purpose for the project. You know you can make a DVD. The client knows you can make a DVD. But WHY do they want this DVD? What's that, they want to give out the DVD at a board meeting at the end of the month? That would be good to know at the beginning of the month. Knowing pretty accurately how long you need to do each dependent task, you can back-time from the delivery date to know how all the efforts fit together, and the latest you can actually begin work.

So you have defined roles and responsibilities in your SOW, managed dependent tasks, kept track of content, followed the directions of communications and moved the project along. Now you are in the final stretch - the final deliverable.

You launch your ships for the final assault. You are in the lead fighter.

Check your cargo - 2 laser pointers and an LCD projector for the final run-through with the client. Some last minute changes are inevitable. This is not saying anything negative about your management skills or about the client. Sometimes it is not until someone sees a completed project, and they can compare the vision for the project with reality, that they realize some minor changes are needed. You make them and everyone is happy.

But if you recall the project briefing, Scope Creep was a danger on the board. This means the project scope has gotten beyond the initial understanding - it has crept outside the lines. Also, scope creep can be a real Creep. Maybe we should call it Scope Creep Squared.

Maybe not.

You sometimes don't know Scope Creep is coming until it arrives - it just jumps out of a worm hole without warning. You know it when you see it however. It could go a number of ways:

The client sees the prototype, and it is exactly what they asked for. But now that they see in reality what they thought they wanted, they realize it is not what they wanted. What they actually wanted they can now make out of what you have given them. No problem, right? Maybe.

Or you finish the project to the client's satisfaction, but oh wait, it would be even better if it had flashing yellow lights, a photo gallery and a new video. You can do those things, can't you? Yes, but that was not part of the SOW, remember?

How you deal with scope creep can vary, and may vary by project. Or you may have a policy. Try to communicate this policy with your client at the outset, to either avoid or better deal with Scope Creep when it happens. If it happens despite your best efforts, you may need to bring everyone back together and figure it out on a case by case basis. Whatever you do, don't just say "yes, we can do that" unless that is your policy. Don't pay lip service just to avoid the conversation. You could burn yourself. Deal with it.

All of your opponents to progress have been dealt with. The budget is tight, but you can make it. Stay on target. Almost there. A final design change at the last moment. It's unexpected but not too bad. You can deal with it. Have your droid lock down a stabilizer. You can hold on for just a few more seconds. There it is, the final target is in your sights. Just need to blast that last budget review and you're home free.

You got it. Well done. With a little help from your colleagues, you can put this project to bed. You rally the troops back to base and thanks everyone for a job well done. You really came together as a team.

Cue award ceremony fanfare.

Award ceremony? Really?

Sorry to disappoint. Your reward is knowing you did a good job. The client sends their thanks, but the best reward will be repeat business with this client. Your job as PM, after all, is to keep this client happy. Because the best kind of client, is a repeat client.

May the "Thanks for Reading" Be With you. (best I could come up with)

Check out this week's Creative COW Podcast featuring me talking about project management.

Thanks for listening.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jul 13, 2009 at 6:23:47 pm project, management

I have a passion for my job, which entails training for medical professionals such as surgeons, nurses and administrators, not to mention various industries.

Technology is great, but how you apply your skills is what pays the bills.

Years ago I canceled my Media 100 support contract upon discovering what a treasure trove of helpful advice can be found on the Creative COW website. I am proud to be a part of this fantastic community.

In my blog I talk a little about media production, a lot about travel and workflow, and occasionally about cooking, nature and my four-legged friends.

Follow me on Twitter: med_ed_mike

I'm also on LinkedIn if you can't get enough of me!


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