Reduce optimistic planning bias in your projects

So, according to all the news reports, the previous Labour government here in the UK got it wrong! They forecast that economic growth would be 3.25%. The new Office for Budget Responsibility has downgraded this estimate to 2.6%.

News reports suggest that the previous Labour Government were overoptimistic in their planning estimates.

Cut now to projects. I hear all the time that senior managers demand delivery of a project by a certain date. But, the issue for those involved is that the date is usually widely optimistic.

So, what can be done? During a recent project management training course we discussed this in some detail and came up with a number of possible options.

• plan the project and then present this to your senior manager showing the problems of delivery
• use the quality, time cost triangle to show the impact of delivery to the date required with the resources (people and money) available
• show the plan without risks and then with risks highlighting the impact of trying to deliver the project by the due date
• reduce quality of the overall project saving valuable time (clearly not an option for some, a possibility for others)
• the tongue in cheek suggestion of asking for more resources and showing the impact of no resources on the project

Of course, these suggestions are based on the people involved, the project and the company!! However, I also suggested that project managers sometimes need to raise their heads above the parapet. In other words, challenge the demand to deliver when it is clear that you cannot. I did however preface this comment that project managers, like all managers need to develop their influencing skills. This is just the opportunity.

So, what suggestions do you have for dealing with the demand for delivery by a date that is overoptimistic? I would be interested to hear!

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2 Responses to Reduce optimistic planning bias in your projects

  1. Chris Warren says:

    I love the saying that you can fool anyone to agreeing to a milestone but you’ll never be able to fool him into hitting it.

    Been working in a very sales orientate organisation for a while and whilst senior managers do not like being told that their uninformed initial estimates are wrong, they find it very difficult to argue with a logical project plan that shows a more realistic date. Some will argue until they are blue in the face of course but I find that facts beat emotion every time.

    It is also important to recognise that plans are subject to change and until a good definition period is allowed many dates will still be at risk. On the plus side they occasionally come in (don’t laugh! I’ve seen it happen). Making sure that everyone knows this is very important. Also scores you major points with your projet team.

    I also find that as long as management aren’t surprised (or worse, publically embarrassed) by a long date then they can themselves be managed into a workable position. For example, once I have a feeling that a date is wildly optimistic I will have a quiet word with the senior manager in question so he’s aware and that while I will do all I can to find a solution, he should be ready for a few issues if he wants to push for his target. Most of the time I find that a senior managers ‘pet project’ is never as valuable to them as they make out if they are faced with a proiritisation battle with a peer. If they still want to drive forward then you can position them as the project team’s ally in removing some barriers.

  2. Ron says:

    Chris, I love that quote about milestones…very powerful. I also agree – never tell a manager they are wrong….even my native Yorkshire approach would never go that far!

    Taking the emotion out of the situation is I believe critical. It is difficult to argue against facts – a well developed project plan will show just how and when it will be delivered.

    Many thanks, appreciate the points.


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