Don't Start a Project with Scarcity

I was talking with a project manager the other day. “I don't have enough developers. I don't have enough testers. I don't have enough UI people. What am I going to do?”

I said, “Well, you have enough people if you have more time. Do you have more time?” He rolled his eyes, and said, “What do you think?”

“Then, don't do the project. Management hasn't committed to the project. Why should you?”

Now, you might feel as if you can't say no. But if your management hasn't committed to the project by managing the project portfolio and committing to the project in the form of committing enough full-time people to the project, why should you?

If you feel stuck between a rock (your management), and a hard place (your inability to say no), consider these options:

  1. Tell your managers when you can start this project with the full-time people you need.
  2. Tell your managers when you can deliver this project. Hint, the end date is much longer than you, your managers, or anyone else can imagine. Much, much, much longer.
  3. Convince Influence, negotiate, beg, borrow, steal the people you need for one or two weeks and see what you can do with the people you need. Now, plan the rest of the project based on data.

Do not, under any circumstances, commit to an end date if you feel you must start a project with scarce resources of any kind. Do NOT.

You will have to learn to defensively manage the project portfolio–a difficult, but not impossible task for a project manager. You will have to coach your managers on how to manage the project portfolio. You may even discover your project is part of a program, which might make it easier to manage your project, once you understand the dependencies.

And, listen to my Spot On Projects” interview with Gil Broza on January 24. Sign up using this link, To be honest, an agile approach, combined with influencing your managers to manage the project portfolio is the only way out of this mess. Do join us.

6 Replies to “Don't Start a Project with Scarcity”

  1. “Don’t commit to an end date” – underline and in bold! Let management calculate the end date from the resources given. Also I’d add, don’t be tempted to change the figures to make them more attractive to the management. I’m amazed how often I’ve seen developers resourced 100% (and sometimes more!) to a project.

  2. Deliver less. Promise to deliver less. If you have half the people for half the time needed to deliver “X”, then promise to deliver something much smaller and simpler — something that can be done by those people in that time.

  3. Johanna, your post makes an important point. I have often mulled over the reason why project managers / team leads, etc. will sometimes agree to commitments that clearly are unachievable. In some cases, it is inexperience or over-confidence or over-ambition. In other cases though, I think that “false commitments” have something in common with “false confessions”. We’ve all seen news reports of people who have confessed to crimes they did not in fact commit. The lucky ones may at some point in time be proved innocent. Many others, I’m sure are not. From the outside it seems unimaginable that someone would confess to a crime they didn’t commit but in fact it happens.

    I found this reference from the Innocence Project web site. I think it should serve as a reminder to executives not to create a confrontational, highly pressured environment when asking for “commitments”. Some people might be able to maintain their convictions under such circumstances but not everyone can.

    “Mentally capable adults also give false confessions due to a variety of factors like the length of interrogation, exhaustion or a belief that they can be released after confessing and prove their innocence later.”

    “Regardless of the age, capacity or state of the confessor, what they often have in common is a decision – at some point during the interrogation process – that confessing will be more beneficial to them than continuing to maintain their innocence.”

    “Sometimes law enforcement use harsh interrogation tactics with uncooperative suspects. But some police officers, convinced of a suspect’s guilt, occasionally use tactics so persuasive that an innocent person feels compelled to confess. Some suspects have confessed to avoid physical harm or discomfort. Others are told they will be convicted with or without a confession, and that their sentence will be more lenient if they confess. Some are told a confession is the only way to avoid the death penalty.”

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