Friday, September 14, 2007

Managing Risks of Fixed Schedules

As Project Managers, we often have to perform with a fixed schedule. This type of situation can occur for almost any project or industry, but it is a special issue in the software industry when we want to meet monthly, quarterly, or other periodic release schedules. Here are my top 5 tips for successfully managing the risk and meeting the deadline:

1) Be sure there is a project charter for each release, with the high level time, resources, budget, and deliverables scoped out. Factor in time off for vacation early since this can have a big impact if it comes as a surprise later. Any surprises warrant an immediate review.

2) Regularly review delivery metrics. Use experience to improve estimating and the ability to meet targets. Build an incentive/recognition plan around achieving superior metrics (not just meeting the target).

3) Count on product and project management being between 5% and 20% of your schedule -- this rule of thumb will help make sure you don't stretch the PMs too far. 5% for just scheduling and coordination, 20% for scheduling, coordination, requirements, and documentation. This makes sure there is a consistent level of management.

4) Complete all your highest effort deliverables early in the cycle.

5) Don't make the end date too aggressive or the team too lean. Better to get the team working on the next cycle or drop in a few low effort items toward the end to fill the time if necessary -- better to finish early than blow the date.

These are the things the project sponsor, Project Manager, and functional manager can do to assure a fixed schedule is nailed!

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