You are put in charge of a project, and the sponsor stakeholder directs you to complete the project with a deadline and budget that seem completely unrealistic. How do you, as the designated project manager, handle this situation?
Many times project managers are placed in situations that test their resolve to adhere to sound project management principles because project sponsor stakeholders expect the PM to complete a project with what seems to be an impossible deadline and/or budget. This is never a pleasant situation. But there are steps that you the PM can take, in keeping with sound project management principles, to handle this mission impossible project.
This article describes sound project management principles a project manager can implement to properly handle seemingly unrealistic project sponsor stakeholder expectations.
The good news and the bad news is that project sponsors have a habit of providing a project deadline and expected budget to the assigned project manager. The good news is that the PM has something to “work with”. The bad news may be that it is not realistic. There is really only one way to determine if the deliverables along with the activity durations, schedule logic and resource allocations can be achieved within the budget and deadline are achievable. You, never-the-less, must handle this situation with your project sponsor delicately.
1. Your first task is to examine the statement of work. Carefully review the project’s purpose, scope, and deliverables. Confirm whether or not the scope and deliverables are absolutely necessary to accomplish the purpose. If not, you might be able to adjust scope, which could reduce time and cost. (Note though, that until you have determined “real picture” you should “hold your cards close to your chest” until you know with some certainty whether the goals are achievable. It’s a good idea often, to prioritize the remaining scope and consider the penalties for missing the deadline and budget targets.
2. Pull together the team or at least the best representatives you can find who know about the work and ask them to help with reviewing the scope. Leveraging “Other People’s Knowledge (OPK)” is often very helpful. Having experts who have done this type of work before can be helpful as you move forward in this part of the process.
3. Prepare to negotiate. Look at schedule fast tracking and crashing possibilities. Examine schedule adjustments that produce the shortest schedule at the lowest cost. Bracket the impact of resource allocations. Determine the shortest possible schedule considering only activity durations and schedule logic. In other words, assume that your supply of resources is infinite. This is your shortest possible schedule. Next find the project completion date based upon a completely resource-leveled project. This is the longest probable schedule. Knowing the difference between these two scenarios is key to preparing for negotiation conversations with the sponsor stakeholder.
4. If needed, negotiate for more resources (in terms of quantity, quality, availability), additional time, or reduced scope. Perhaps, all three. Aim to propose a schedule that meets your sponsors’ time-cost-scope priorities while giving you the best opportunity to achieve the result (build in a buffer for the unforeseen).
Be warned at this point that your sponsor will likely pressure you to meet their desired targets. Resist this pressure and remember that an unrealistic schedule benefits no one. Present your facts confidently, and you are more likely to get your sponsor to agree to a more realistic schedule.
5. Perform a schedule risk analysis. Determine the possibility and impact of not meeting a desired project target. This knowledge of project risks enables you to take steps to mitigate the probable high-impact risks. It is critical to monitor these schedule risks. Risk assessments, if done well and presented with an eye to helping the sponsor understand how they can directly affect the outcome can be of great help to you and your team.
6. Provide regular honest status reports on efforts and progress. And, link the risk updates with this. Make sure the sponsor stakeholder is aware of your team’s diligence to meet project goals and objectives. Continue to attempt to change (or manage) your sponsors’ expectations to make them more in line with reality.
Provide your sponsor with early warnings when progress indicators show the project is off target. And, where and when appropriate, ask your sponsor to help clear roadblocks, provide additional resources, etc. If you provide the sponsor stakeholder with sound evidence of effort and progress, they are more likely to come to terms with reality.
We live in an age of unparalleled technology advancement. We also are in a time when expectations for project managers are at their highest. Sometimes these expectations defy reality. As a project manager you need to be aware of when your being asked to deliver more than sound scheduling principles can produce. In these situations examine the statement or work, perhaps, you can prune the scope and still meet the desired purpose.
Regardless, analyze your situation to prepare for negotiations. Engage your sponsor to negotiate for more time, resources, or a reduced scope. Analyze and monitor schedule time and budget risks. Regular project status reports highlighting effort, progress, and target warning indicators may provide enough evidence to convince your sponsor to rein in expectations.