I’d written an article previously which listed the benefits a good project schedule can provide, but most of those would be perceived as being of value to a project manager. “All you care about is the schedule!” is likely a complaint that has been heard by most project managers.
The danger in such cases is that project managers will struggle to get sufficient engagement or input into the creation or ongoing maintenance of project schedules. This can become a vicious cycle as the project managers are more likely to develop schedules themselves with minimal input which will only further the negative perception that these schedules are of limited value or don’t reflect reality.
While I don’t expect project managers to be primarily responsible for educating team members and stakeholders on project management practices, part of our role is to support and reinforce the importance of these – after all, we usually don’t know what PM 101 knowledge a new team member has when they are assigned to our projects!
So what are some of the ways in which project managers can convey the necessity or benefits of a schedule to their team members or to the functional managers that should support and demand their creation?
- It helps to establish and maintain expectations between team members, stakeholders and customers. This should help to reduce the volume of the “Are we there yet?” requests from those outside of the project team.
- It helps functional managers achieve some measure of predictability around resource allocation. In organizations where staff work concurrently on projects and operations, it can be very challenging for functional managers to plan for the peaks and troughs of day-to-day activities. Improved visibility into the demand from projects can at least remove one variable from this complex equation. It can also help functional managers keep project managers honest by confirming when team members are expected to be released from projects.
- It should help the customer and project sponsor sleep better at night! If the customer or sponsor are relying on the project manager telling them everything is on track without a method of objectively assessing that, they are likely in for an unpleasant surprise.
- It can provide protection to the project team if the sponsor or customer requests a change that cannot be accommodated without unnatural behaviors.
- It helps to pull everyone’s (that includes the project manager!) head up from getting too focused on the most immediate critical milestone, and helps to remind them that the current battle is just one campaign of a much bigger war.
Project schedules are detailed directions for travelling to a faraway land. In their absence, if the extent of one’s geographic knowledge is limited to what you can see or the places one has visited (and remembers!), it can become challenging to visit new destinations in a predictable fashion.
Running a project of even moderate complexity without a schedule is similar to navigating with those maps of old that indicated “Here be dragons”!
Kiron D. Bondale, PMP, PMI-RMP has worked for over thirteen years in the project management domain with a focus on technology and change management. He has setup and managed Project Management Offices (PMO) and has provided PPM consulting services to clients across multiple industries.
For more of Kiron’s views on project & change management, please visit his blog.