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Fixed date projects are like weddings

Some projects are already time-bound when you receive them, and while this way of planning is not the most controlled way to manage a project, it is possible – and I am just about to find out how possible. Suddenly, a project that has been dragging on for a year, and I thought I had killed, now has to be delivered by 21 April. Just like that. So I have to link one of our intranets to the phone system, manage the phone service provider, an infrastructure contractor, a developement consultancy and France Telecom’s involvement. And I thought it was going to be a slow week.

I’ve interviewed the owner of Bridal Blossoms this week about this very subject, and Stephanie was insightful about how to plan to a fixed date: wedding dates are chosen to be convient to the bride and groom and not because it takes six months to plan the event, so I thought talking to people involved in the wedding business would give me some ideas of best practice for planning to a fixed date, and it has.

Projects with fixed end dates present a different type of planning challenge for project managers. Instead of being able to analyse and plan, you are told what to do and when to do it by. The analysis part of planning has to take on a different spin when your implementation time is already ticking away.

Whatever the reason for the time constraint, the planning approach for time-bound projects should start off in exactly the same way as for those without time constraints. Work out the end date ignoring the fixed delivery date, even if you do have to crash your analysis time into a shorter period and use estimates with a greater degree of uncertainty than normal. If your schedule shows that you can deliver before the expected date, that’s great. If not, move into proactive planning mode and get creative to find a way to deliver on time.

It is rarely impossible to deliver on time, given the right amount of resources, an unlimited budget and a tightly controlled project scope, but projects seldom meet these criteria. With fixed date projects:

  • plan creatively to slash time out of the schedule, and
  • get the support of your sponsor for when you have to steamroller through the office bureaucracy.

An update on those licences – they were extended until the end of the week and now the service has been suspended until the procurement process to buy ‘proper’ ones is finished. So we’re not booking any more online meetings. And my glove was never handed in…

About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin is a Fellow of the Association for Project Management in the UK and the award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.


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