Tom looked at the clock.
“Midnight,” he said to himself as he took a sip of coffee. The milestone review for the second phase of the project was the next day. As he updated the project plan, he came across the organizational change management tasks that were supposed to be done in phase one that got pushed to phase two. He saw that the tasks were still zero percent complete.
“We’ll pick them up later,” he said to himself as he added the tasks to the phase three workplan.
During the milestone review the next day, Tom’s manager, Gayle, asked about the incomplete organizational change management tasks.
“Ran out of time,” Tom said. “We’ll get them done in phase three.”
“Isn’t that what you told me three months ago during our phase one review?” Gayle asked.
Tom looked down. “Um, yeah,” he said.
“Phase three is even more intense than phase two, what makes you think you’ll get the OCM tasks done in phase three if you didn’t get them done in phase one or two?”
“Gayle, we’ll get them done,” Tom said.
“OK, I’m holding you to it, Tom.”
Three months later, at the phase three milestone review, Tom walked through the workplan, then got to the OCM tasks. Tom knew what was coming.
“Still not done,” Gayle said as Tom avoided her gaze.
Before we go any further, I want to articulate a principle that I’ve not only seen in countless projects but also experienced personally:
The closer you get to a project delivery date, the less time you have to complete tasks kicked down the road from prior project phases.
It’s rare that availability to do work increases as the project gets closer to its final delivery date, and that tasks deferred throughout the project now have extra time to get done. Typically, the project team is working hard to accomplish the only-most-crucial tasks to meet delivery, with other tasks either deferred to post-release or not done at all. The attitude is that those tasks can be completed later when there’s more time. I have two problems with this:
- If the task was important enough to include in the original plan, then why is it now unimportant enough to be pushed to tomorrow (or not done at all?)
- Tomorrow (almost) never comes.
To avoid the temptation of kicking tasks down the road only to have them die on the vine, give these five takeaways a look:
- Don’t short-change planning – Pick your quote: Fail to plan, plan to fail; You don’t have time to do it right, but you always have time to do it over; Measure twice, cut once. The bottom line is to have a realistic and believable plan that focuses on deliverables, has an understood critical path, specifically named task owners (not “the team”), and clear dates. Just make sure the plan supports the project and doesn’t become a project in and of itself.
- Resist the urge to push tasks off – OK, sometimes hard choices need to be made and something might need to get pushed off to a later date. This becomes a problem when it’s the rule more than the exception. If you chronically push tasks off because you’ve run out of time, perhaps something in your planning needs to change.
- When you have to push tasks off, articulate the implications – Putting something off until later or cutting the task altogether means the project will incur some incremental risk (assuming the task was value-added in the first place). Have mitigation in place for managing any incremental risk.
- Adjust the plan when things hit the fan – I’ve seen it many times: a project starts out great, the plan is reviewed on a regular basis, life is good. Then something goes wrong. More often than not, the plan either doesn’t get updated to reflect reality or it gets abandoned altogether. Keep the plan current and drive decisions on hard choices when tasks must be deferred. Just remember to articulate the implications (see takeaway 3) of the choice. Keep the plan current and realistic.
- If it’s truly not necessary, then cut it – When planning your project, do a reality scrub to ensure only must-need tasks are included. Ask yourself, “What’s the consequence if this task isn’t done?” If there’s no clear consequence, then consider not doing it. Just make sure the project team agrees with cutting the task before it goes in the shredder.
Remember, the closer you get to a project delivery date, the less time you have to complete tasks kicked down the road. Resist the urge to push tasks off until tomorrow, because tomorrow almost never comes.