“This is not mission difficult, Mr. Hunt, it’s mission impossible.“
As project managers, we may occasionally feel like agents of the IMF, having to walk the tightrope between optimism that our project objectives will be met and the educated cynicism of having lived through the impacts of Murphy’s Law on more than one project!
Nowhere does this balancing feel more precarious than when we are facing a potential delay to a key project milestone that cannot be absorbed.
Should we raise the flag early which might get us points from our team members for taking their concerns seriously but risk antagonizing our sponsor or other stakeholders who don’t share these concerns or do we remain optimistic that we’ll be lucky but alienate our team members which could in turn run the risk that their pessimism become a self-fulfilling prophecy?
While there is no fool-proof panacea, the following questions might help.
1. Have you got an independent opinion of current status? Sometimes it helps to just have a fresh pair of eyes review work remaining relative to the looming milestone date to either refute the “doom and gloom” or to suggest a creative solution that has not been considered yet.
2. If you are in a matrixed organization, do the functional managers support their resources’ concerns? Having good relationships with the resource managers enables you to engage them in either validating the concerns of the team members or supporting your efforts to meet the deadline.
3. Have you truly assessed and eliminated all viable options for meeting the dates? Fast tracking, crashing, multiple resource shifts to take full advantage of remaining days and scope reduction or deferral should all be considered.
Assuming there is no natural way in which the deadline can be met, present the grim news to your customer and key stakeholders backed up by evidence that you’ve “done your homework” and supported by options that should help to mitigate the impacts of the delay.
On the other hand, if you feel that the milestone can be met, a potentially harder task remains – how do you reinvigorate your team with the drive and optimism crucial to maintaining the productivity levels required to meet the date? This is where you’ll need to pull out every soft skill you possess.
Guinan - “When a man is convinced he’s going to die tomorrow, he’ll probably find a way to make it happen. The only one who can turn this around is you.“