Change happens when the pain of holding on becomes greater than the fear of letting go ― Spencer Johnson
Project schedules are subject to change all the time. When you think that you have it clearly defined and communicated, something unexpected happens and before you know it, you are making changes. It is not that changing schedules is necessarily your idea or desire to do, it is more often a consequence of movements that occurred outside your control. Program managers are typically responsible for the overall timeline. What are some of the habits that you practice daily to stay comfortable with that responsibility?
Understand the business context – One of the first things you want to do as program manager is to network with the key stakeholders on the business side, who indirectly influence the program. It is crucial to understand the business needs, constraints, expected program benefits, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the organization. Assess the decision making process by figuring out who the key players are, how much time it takes to make decisions, and what buttons you can push to get things done. Involve these key stakeholders as you execute the program by keeping them involved and engaged. It is one way to mitigate the risk of a schedule change for unplanned work or not well defined work
Control the scope of work – The single biggest driver of success for any program is a clear and unambiguous definition of the scope of work. As much as it sounds obvious, it is the most complex activity to do. From a scheduling perspective it is important to understand the level of effort, the timing and sequence, as well as the probability that the scope definition changes as you execute the program. Is it in, is out, if it is in has it changed, if it is out, has it been replaced, why is it out, can it come back? Each variation has its own schedule impact. Be in control by communicating the scope of work, who is responsible, when it needs to be completed and what that status is based on a progress tracker. Simple concept, simple on paper, complex stuff in the real world
Assess the skill set and mix – You get the job done well and on-time if you have the right people. Always put priority on the quality of the team, no matter what. Assess team performance on an ongoing basis and adjust where you must. If that is not completely your call, influence leaders to make changes as best and often as you can. Schedule attainment is for 100% a result of having the right skill set and mix in your team.
Maintain visibility of work status – Building and maintaining work schedules is a must as long as they have meaning for the receiver. I am a fan of keeping schedules crisp, concise yet complete. Many of the detailed project schedules with thousands of line items do not work, because you cannot communicate them. Try to set up a schedule hierarch with a high level timeline with a GANTT view, a master project schedule with the key tasks, deliverables, milestones and dependencies. And last but not least, maintain a number of detailed progress trackers by deliverable type. These trackers are really helpful as they ultimately help you drive the work to completeness. They are easy to communicate if set up correctly, and help build focus and momentum in the team
Continue to build and sustain trust – The silent killer of any project schedule that is always out there to get you is the lack of trust among key stakeholders. Work gets done on-time or faster when people trust each other. Works does not get done at all or gets delayed when the level of trust is low. It is a core accountability of the project sponsors to foster and establish a healthy and trustworthy working climate. The program manager is responsible to manage trust as a risk and initiate and influence corrective actions when needed. It is important to understand early on in the program what the people and organizational change impacts are. These game changers oftentimes have an immediate effect on trust
There are many factors that can move your project schedule. The five that I have mentioned here above are only a few. They are the more impactful ones. I think the overall key message is to always try to stay ahead of the curve. If you understand the context, the scope of work, the capability of the team and level of of trust, you can rely on your instincts and assess at any moment whether you can deliver on-time or not.
Bas de Baat
Program Manager and Coach