You're a project manager. Your project is proceeding fairly well. You've had a few bumps, but you're making progress. You come into work one day, and there's a message to meet with the Big Cheese. Big Cheese says, “Stop working on that project. Start on this one!”
Not only does this happen once, it happens several times, either bouncing you and the project team among several projects, or back and forth between two projects. Whatever the circumstances, you're multi-project multi-tasking, and so are all the people on your project team. You know you're not making progress on anything, and the urgency of all the projects keeps going up and up and up…
This schedule game is called “Pants on Fire.” It occurs when management is afraid to focus on one thing at a time. It has several possible causes: when the technical staff has a track record of being late, when there's no corporate strategy, or when the corporate strategy hasn't been broken down into sufficiently-detailed tactics.
Some actions you can take:
- Plan for iterations, and start something new on an iteration boundary. To make this work, the iterations have to be short enough to start something new. (I've made a staged delivery lifecycle work in a company that was addicted to Pants on Fire management.)
- Help management develop a corporate strategy.
- Help test the tactics against the strategy.
- Modify your current estimation techniques, so the project team is more likely to meet their original estimated dates.
Pants on Fire wastes everyone's time. But sometimes, management either cannot change their management style or cannot believe that multiprojecting wastes time. If you're in a situation like that, consider how you can create a project-wide environment that allows you and your project team to work successfully.