Crossing the Desert Syndrome


I'm close to falling into “Crossing the Desert” syndrome. A project team focuses on an interim milestone, works like the devil to meet that milestone. They meet the milestone, look up, and realize they're not at the end of the project–they still have to finish the darn thing. They're living the Crossing the Desert syndrome.

The problem with focusing on an interim milestone (and too typically doing lots of overtime, late nights, weekends to meet the milestone) is that the team is burnt out once they've met the interim milestone. And you still need them to finish the project.

If you're a PM in this position, encourage people to take some time off. If they haven't been taking weekends, and if they've been working overtime, have people go back to a regular 40-hour week. NO extra time. If they've missed some holidays or vacation, have them take time now. You need people who have brain cells left in their heads, not people who are about to–or already have–made stupid mistakes.

Be prepared for people to be a bit down, even after they've met the milestone. Because they pushed so hard, they may not be able to see how much progress they made, or how good the product is. They may only be able to focus on what they didn't do. You may need to be a bit of a cheerleader.

You may need to replan the rest of the project. If people had to work like crazy to meet an interim date, chances are good that the rest of the schedule is too aggressive, too. Gather everyone in a conference room, hand them all yellow stickies, and ask them to organize how they can finish the rest of the project.

Make sure you acknowledge their hard work, refocus them on the last part of the project, and good luck.

I first heard of Crossing the Desert from Jack Nevison of Oak Associates.

Labels: interim milestone, project management

3 Replies to “Crossing the Desert Syndrome”

  1. Thanks for the great tips about how to get out of the desert. Good stuff, thanks.
    I’ve tried to extend the conversation with an article discussing how to prevent getting into the desert in the first place.

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