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How do you get a project manager to understand a deliverable is too aggressive?

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Richard Young - reddit on project problem.jpg

The dilemma

“We have a huge deliverable coming up that we're just matter of fact not going to meet,” writes Reddit user u/TehLittleOne. “Certain features are going to be missing, others are going to be only partially working. My guess is we're probably over a month behind schedule... That's not the fault of people slacking, it's just what was asked was too much. So now my question is how do I actually convince [the project manager and stakeholders]? I'm not experienced in this sort of conversation…”

The responses

Highest rated was an answer emphasising the importance of data and documentation. If the project team is rigorous in ‘timesheeting’ and recording milestones and other outputs, it ought to be evident there is an insurmountable problem.

The flip-side is to keep well-organised records of the interactions with stakeholders, explained u/moochao: “EVERYTHING needs to be documented. The vendor delaying? Documented. ‘Discussed problems with the PM’? Documented. Cover your[self] in emails and paper trail.” That’s something most in project management would endorse in any case – and most decent project management software packages (see Project journal spring edition) will help ensure comms are properly logged and searchable.

The original poster detailed what had already been done on that score – and the response was doomish. “The best you can do is send an email to the PM and CTO and break down all of the blockers your team has that will prevent them from making their deliverables. A detailed list of each dev's tasks and time estimates may be warranted too. Basically show them the total amount of work needed to be done and how long that will take.”

Dealing with unrealistic stakeholders is something most of you will recognise. The test here is to ensure the estimates on delivery and workload are credible and compelling. Working out this kind of data with stakeholders at the onset of the project is obviously the only way forward – and calling out unrealistic timelines or risky dependencies has to happen at the scoping stage. But in this case, the horse has bolted and the stable door is still wide open.

As one user pointed out: “What you're dealing with is not a data problem, but a behavioural one.” And several users made helpful suggestions about tactics to shift those behaviours. “Get to know this PM, be their friend, find out the pressure they're under,” wrote u/dpgaspard. “Try to have an empathetic conversation with the PM framed in a way of you wanting to understand why they are pushing such an aggressive timeline,” added u/jdow6. “Ask if there is anything you can do to help provide the data they need to go ask for more time from the project steering committee/sponsors. I totally understand this is frustrating for you, and it is probably just as frustrating for the PM as well…”

One commenter pointed out that agile might be the solution in this kind of situation. But the original poster was clear that lack of methodological discipline was one of the causes of their woes: “We’re really waterfall mixed with agile because we can't meet the deadlines. It’s a mess.” A reminder that when projects start to come unstuck, senior stakeholders and sponsors really must be part of the solution. Otherwise, tinkering with methods, interim deliverables and resources might just get you deeper into hot water…

Brought to you by Project journal.


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