Sometimes, I work with organizations where there’s an implicit agreement not to discuss the schedule. I’ve seen this in two flavors: the first is Dream Time, where the project team and management believe the schedule, especially if it’s in a scheduling tool with lots of graphs and different colored lines. The other is Happy Date, where management demands a date, and the project team says, “Sure, no problem. Christmas it is!” But they don’t say which Christmas.
Eventually, when some Christmas comes around, or enough dates have been missed, people start discussing the schedule. But not until the project team has missed many dates, possibly even the first few desired end-of-project dates. I worked with a project team once who hadn’t met a milestone or anything else on their project schedules in over five years. They would develop optimistic schedules with no confidence ranges repeatedly. Finally, after a senior management change, they were called into senior management meetings to explain the schedule. It wasn’t until one manager said, “Look, I want to know when something will be done. Let’s just start with one thing, and go from there,” that the project team realized they needed to change.
I have to admit, I have a difficult time understanding how people fall into this schedule game. At some point, no one can miss the reality of the project. But, I certainly have seen persuasive managers intimidate, cajole, or use political pressure to “convince” a project manager or team that they could meet the Happy Date, the date the manager wants. Combine that persuasiveness with a culture of not discussing difficult topics, and you’re ripe for the Dream Time/Happy Date schedule game.
To prevent this schedule game, you need to work on several levels. For the project:
- Explain schedule dates with confidence ranges, especially if you’re not using an iterative lifecycle.
- Use an iterative lifecycle and explain what you’ll implement with confidence ranges. (“We can do these ten features, and maybe these other three in the next month. We’ll let you know before the end of the month.”)
- Measure more than just the date of the project. I’ve discussed single-dimension measurements, especially just date measurements before. They’re poison to seeing the true project status.
But a huge problem with this game is the willingness of everyone in the organization to placate one another and avoid conflict. Constructive discussion (aka constructive conflict) can make an organization stronger. Avoiding conflict and the necessary discussions makes an organization weaker.