As we welcome the New Year and a fresh calendar, it’s easy to get caught up in 2015’s shiny potential. The sense of having a clean slate allows us to conjure up big plans for the next twelve months in both our personal and professional lives. For project managers, this is a season we have come to dread. Although we are all for new projects – after all, without them, we would have no jobs – the turning of the fourth digit presents a highly desirable, and often lofty, target date for projects kicking off this time of year. It is in my experience that the majority of projects that come to life during December and January’s optimistic overload are given the target deadline of “by year end,” which is immediately followed by a proverbial face palm by project managers. As simple as it seems, “end of the year” is often not a realistic due date for most projects fueled by the fires of the New Year’s possibilities.
The sad truth remains that most projects never meet their target finish date. A simple internet search on the percentage of projects that do not meet their targeted completion dates results in alarming statistics ranging from 85% to 90%. What causes this? Simply put, nine times out of ten it’s because a project manager was not involved in setting the target deadline. Unrealistic expectations or promises lead to project due dates being plucked out of thin air with no real understanding of the true effort or scope required for the project’s success. While there is no shatterproof way to identify a realistic, achievable target date within your organization, there is a simple question that will help you narrow down your timeline: Do you want the project done Right, or do you want it done Right Now? Because, unfortunately, the two are not mutually exclusive.
Right versus Right Now
“You get out, what you put in.” This is true in virtually all of life. There are times when it just needs to get done, and then there are times when it needs to be done right. As an organization, you need to decide which is important and what your main objective is before you can decide how much effort realistically needs to go into the project.
Seeing as we just survived another Holiday Season, let’s examine your Holiday shopping to demonstrate the Right versus Right Now concept. Chances are there were people on your list, like family and close friends, that you took extra care in your purchasing to find that perfect, special something. You wanted to do it Right. There were likely also individuals on your list that you picked up the first thing that worked. You wanted to do it Right Now. This is the same in projects. There are times when you just need to get something implemented, perhaps due to a timely regulation change or an upcoming merger, but there are, more often than not, instances in which quality should take precedence over completion date.
Determine Your “Main Thing”
Late businessman and author Stephen Covey once said “the main thing is to keep the ‘main thing’ the main thing.” In terms of projects, you need to define your main objective in order to determine if you need it done Right or Right Now. This is a difficult pill to swallow for some. Who doesn’t want it done right in the end? But, keep in mind, “right” is relative. There are varying degrees of “right.” Right Now is still right; it’s just not the best possible right.
There are times when Right Now is necessary. Situations that require timely implementations without high quality expectations are candidates for the Right Now timeline. The end result is usually clunky and more painful on end users. I like to call Right Now the quick and dirty project. Management in these scenarios say things like “just get it done, and we’ll fix it later.”
Doing it Right, on the other hand, is generally more painful on the project team due to the slow and tedious process but easier on the end user because the final product is more efficient. As a rule of thumb, most software implementations and migrations should be done Right. There’s an enormous amount of effort that needs to be spent verifying business requirements and building processes to minimize risk to the business; the more time devoted to the planning and development stages, the less time required to fix issues during the implementation stage. Doing it Right means consciously taking the time to ensure all your ducks are accounted for and in a row before you cross the street.
What is “Done?”
So we’ve established that the Right Now approach will get it done sooner than Right. But, here’s the kicker – What is “done?” What is your idea of “done?” Yes, the project is implemented and being used, but how much time are you going to need to allocate after the fact to make it truly functional? This is where the boomerang of “we’ll fix it later” comes back to hit you. You are likely to spend far more time cleaning up issues and enhancing a Right Now’s effectiveness than you would have if you had just done it Right in the first place. The Right Now approach is a shortcut that usually doesn’t pay off; instead, it upsets and frustrates end users, creating more work and decreasing efficiencies in the end.
As a project manager, over promising has to be one of my greatest pet peeves. A simple solution? Be realistic. Include a project manager in the conversation when determining a target date for an upcoming project. A trained PM will be able to walk your organization through questions that will help identify your “main thing,” determine the “degree of right” required, and establish a realistic target “done” date with more confidence. Take time to reflect on previous project experiences and heed the lessons learned before setting expectations. And remember: “by the end of the year” is not an educated answer.
Sabrina Schindler is a technology consultant with
Eide Bailly Technology Consulting. She is a
certified Project Management Professional (PMP)
and Certified Scrum Master (CSM) with more than
7 years of experience managing software
application implementation and optimization
projects covering scope, timelines, and resources.