8 Proven Ways to Compress Project Schedules

Project managers are pressured to deliver projects quickly. Sponsors think their project managers are magicians…and in a way, we are. Let’s explore eight ways to wave our magic wand to make the seemingly impossible possible.

8 Proven WaysTo Compress ProjectSchedules

Before we dive into our magic tricks, let’s walk through some preliminaries. We need first to break down our work into deliverables and activities.

Mapping Out Your Course of Action

The project manager’s role is to work with the project team to achieve the project objectives. How do we do this? The project manager and the project team develop a project plan that includes the project schedule.

Work break down structure (WBS). Photo courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

Work Breakdown Structure (WBS).

The project manager must break down the project into pieces. The first exercise is the decompose the project into deliverables, verifiable work products (e.g., building, software, reports, yo-yos). In this exercise, we should consider:

  • What deliverables must be created to achieve the project objectives?
  • What will NOT be delivered in the project?
  • What are the assumptions?
  • What are the budget constraints?
  • When must the project be completed?

Next, we decompose the lowest level deliverables into activities. What activities must be performed to create the deliverables?

Now comes the creative experience of sequencing the activities. Wise project managers ask:

  • What is the most efficient order of the activities?
  • Must certain activities occur before other activities can start?
  • Can we perform some activities in parallel?
  • Are we dependent on external resources, vendors, and organizations?
  • Will we need to wait for certain activities (e.g., let cement dry for the foundation of a building before constructing the walls)?

“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.” -Henry Ford

How to Pull a Rabbit Out of the Hat

Creativity is about solving problems. The project manager shows the schedule to the sponsor with a duration of eight months. The sponsor responds, “Six months max.” Let’s consider ways to compress the schedule. This is where magic starts to happen.

  • Recheck the activity dependencies. Make sure they are correct and valid. Look for ways to change the dependencies to drive quicker completion.
  • Challenge the assumptions where activities are thought to be mandatory dependencies. Do we really have to complete certain activities BEFORE we start the successor activities? Sometimes we can find ways to start subsequent activities in parallel with other activities (called fast tracking). Warning – this action will likely increase risks. Want to see a crazy example of fast tracking? Check out a World Record for House Speed Building!
  • Reduce lags. How long do we have to wait for the cement to dry? Get creative…find ways to reduce the lags on the project’s critical path. Try a quick drying cement…you get the idea!
  • Check the external dependencies. Rather waiting two weeks for delivery of laptops, why not drive across town and purchase the laptops from a local vendor? Double check the outsourcing assumptions. Do you really want to depend on someone outside of your organization? If you choose to outsource, can you contractually to reduce the duration of the outsourced activities.

Other Powerful Hat Tricks

Not only can we expedite projects by modifying the dependencies, here are some other tactics:

  • Reduce the duration of activities by reducing the associated risks. When individuals estimate activities, they add time to account for risks. If we can reduce or eliminate the risk, we can reduce the time required.
  • Reduce the project duration by adding additional qualified resources to the critical path activities (called crashing). Warning – this action increases cost and often increases risks.
  • Reduce the duration by replacing a team member with someone with greater skill and knowledge for critical path activities. Of course, this action will increase the cost.
  • Reduce the scope of the project. Discuss the priority of the deliverables with the key stakeholders and determine if the scope can be reduced.

Five Things to Start and Five Things to Stop in Project Meetings

Project managers have a responsibility to ensure their project meetings are efficient and effective. Here are five things to start and five things to stop in meetings.

Photo courtesy of DollarPhoto.com

Photo courtesy of DollarPhoto.com

Five Things to Start:

  1. Start and end your meetings on time.
  2. Start your meetings by stating the purpose of the meeting.
  3. Start summarizing, validating, and capturing Risks, Action Items, Issues, and Decisions during your meetings as they surface.
  4. Start engaging your team members with well-thought-out questions.
  5. Start capturing off-topic items in your Parking Lot to be considered for future meetings.

Five Things to Stop:

  1. Stop letting people ramble on and on off topic (i.e., topic hopping).
  2. Stop having meetings with no agenda and stated purpose.
  3. Stop letting meetings go over time.
  4. Stop allowing ego-centric individuals dominate your meetings.
  5. Stop having meetings when things may be handled in a different manner.

Questions: What else would you start or stop in meetings? 

How to Think Ahead With a Project Plan

Do you see the project planning process as a hoop you have to jump through to get to the real work? Yes, I know…we all want to bypass the planning and get on with the execution.

We are ready to develop the deliverables and solve the world’s problems. The project team wants to get their hands dirty and show the sponsor and stakeholders that they are in the thick of things.

woman thinking

Let’s skip the planning stuff and get on with it! Not so quick my dear friend. Danger lies ahead.

Every white-water rafter will tell you the same thing – scout a rapid when you are a safe distance away. You see the Danger! Rapids Ahead signs. The prudent rafter exits the river to check out what’s ahead and to determine their approach to the rapids.

Experienced project managers understand this principle too. Before entering the uncertain waters of a project, we bring the future into the present. We develop a plan that allows us to make our journey safely. Who knows, we may even have a little fun along the way.Continue reading

10 Surprising Ways to Make Your Project Customers Happy

Have you ever had a customer accept your project work although they were not happy with the project?

According to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, customer is “the person(s) or organization that will pay for the project’s products, service, or result. Customers can be internal or external to the performing organization.”

Group of People Standing Holding Customer

Internal customers have many problems. The problems may include:

  • A product that lacks certain features or functionality
  • Too many defects in a manufacturing process
  • A regulatory requirement
  • Insufficient sales
  • Lack of a building or infrastructure
  • Unhappy external customers due to poor response times
  • Vulnerabilities to a cyber attack
  • Not enough coffee (just kidding)Continue reading

My Top 20 Most Popular Blog Posts of 2014

Well, it’s the time of the year when I evaluate my blog in preparation for the coming year. I want to make sure that I understand your topics of interest.

Thank you for a great year! I had more than 20,000 visitors this year. For some bloggers, this number is small. For me, I am amazed that this many people from all over the world visit my site. Visitors spent on average four and one-half minutes per visit.

Photo courtesy of DollarPhoto.com

Photo courtesy of DollarPhoto.com

The top countries included:
• The United States (8,102)
• India (1,446)
• Canada (1,197)
• The United Kingdom (1,137)

The top organizations were cable and communications companies.

Here are my top 20 blog posts and my observations:
1. Evaluating Risks Using Qualitative Risk Analysis (updated 1/27/15)
2. Evaluating Risks Using Quantitative Risk Analysis (8/3/14)
3. How to Determine Project Budget Reserves (2/14/14)Continue reading

How to Prioritize Software Requirements Simply

Have you ever felt a tension between the business community and Information Technology in a software requirements session?

The users rattle off requirements like a Gatling gun. Developers want to meet the user’s needs but realize they don’t possess magical powers.

At the same time, the sponsor has set a demanding project deadline.

Photo courtesy of DollarPhoto.com.

Photo courtesy of DollarPhoto.com.

Demand exceeds supply. It’s like trying to put 24 ounces of fluid in a 12-ounce coke bottle…you just can’t violate the laws of nature, no matter how hard you try.

Tough decisions must be made. How will the team prioritize the requirements?

Many teams rely on the old fashion process of rating the requirements with the vague and undefined categories of High, Medium, and Low. Over time, users often develop a bad habit of rating more and more requirements as High. The developers push back. It can turn into a fistfight.

The Simple Meaning of MoSCoW

Allow me to introduce you to another prioritization method that can be used for traditional as well as agile projects. It’s called the MoSCoW Prioritization. The upper case letters stand for:Continue reading

How to Cash In on Project Opportunities

Some project managers have a defensive mindset…they primarily focus on threats. It’s time to achieve more by thinking differently.

Opportunities abound. They are all around us.

Photo courtesy of DollarPhoto.com

Photo courtesy of DollarPhoto.com

Consider these day-to-day opportunities in our personal lives.

Your favorite clothing retailer is advertising a 30% discount on a new suit you been eyeing.

Starbucks is offering Pumpkin Spice Latte for a brief season. “Cinnamon, nutmeg, clove. Creamy milk and pumpkin pie spices. Your PSL is waiting for you.”

Your company is offering free flu shots for the next two weeks…I’ll take the Pumpkin Spice Latte.

What project opportunities are within your reach? What unique set of variables provide you with a chance for improving your schedule, budget, and quality? How can you convert uncertain opportunities into a realized benefits?

Fuzzy Opportunity

Many individuals have fuzzy notions about opportunities. We cannot leverage its power until we understand it. Let’s look closer with a magnifying glass.

The PMBOK defines risk as “an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on one or more project objectives such as scope, schedule, cost, and quality.”

Furthermore, the PMBOK defines an opportunity as “a risk that would have a positive effect on one or more project objectives.” Therefore, negative risks are considered to be threats and positive risks are opportunities.

The Family Feud

I am a member of some project management LinkedIn Groups that have had heated debates concerning whether an opportunity is a risk ad nauseam. Some people define risks as strictly a negative event or condition. I understand their perspective.

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines risk as “the possibility that something bad or unpleasant (such as injury or a loss) will happen.”

Once a project manager says they do not consider opportunities as risks, and then many of these individuals excuse themselves from the hunt for opportunities.

Don’t fall into this trap. Define [risk] and determine how you will identify and manage both threats and opportunities. Include your definitions and processes in your risk management plan.Continue reading

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