Have you ever had a project client come to you and say, “Can we implement this a month sooner than we originally planned?” No, that never happens…right? As a technical project manager, if something similar hasn’t already happened to you, trust me, it will.
It doesn’t sound like that big of a deal. A month, when discussed early enough on a technical project that lasts, say, 12-18 months, should be doable, right? It’s not that easy, though - and you know it.
So many decisions and tasks are built into that rollout date. Resource time commitments to other projects, the ability of vendors to deliver needed materials by a given date, testing equipment, and our own developers and designers ability to get the required level of technology, function and quality built into the final solution. The list could go on and on.
So let’s consider – what do we need to assess when a customer comes to us with such a request? What should be the first five things we do or check before we give an absolute “yes”, “no”, or “maybe?”
1. Can the deadline be moved with no major repercussions?
Check with the entire team first to see if there even is an issue. And, yes, most likely if the request is big enough (like moving the deadline an entire month) there will be an issue. But let’s see if the request can be accommodated without any real shuffling of activities, resources or timeframes.
Can you check with a supplier who was holding things up and see if they can now deliver earlier? Can you see if anything has changed that could move the final project date up? Maybe you can get “close enough” to satisfy the client’s request. This should always be your logical first move.
2. What schedule shifts can you incorporate?
If option #1 doesn’t work, then what – if anything – can you safely shift in the schedule to make the date possible – or at least come close to meeting it?
We're looking for project delivery or timeline changes that will have minimal impact on the timeframe or financial viability of the project.
3. Can functionality be removed?
Can some requirements for the project be completely removed to make it happen?
The downside of this one is you’ll likely remove work and revenue from the project, so while you make the customer happy, you may not make your senior management very happy. Use this, but as a last resort if the phased approach mentioned next doesn’t work.
4. Will a negotiated phased approach work?
Can certain parts of the project be broken into phases so that the necessary functionality can be delivered a month early? Maybe things that aren’t needed yet – like a backend accounting function that can wait another month - can be brought up in a later, new phase of the project.
This is often the likely scenario you’ll work out with the customer. They’ll be happy that you met the date for the needed functionality and you’ll look like a hero, and your organization will be happy because this will result in at least some extra effort that will require a change order and possibly additional revenue. You’ll look like a hero again…win-win.
5. Is the schedule change an absolute?
Finally, is the change in deadline really – and I mean REALLY – necessary?
The customer needs the project done by a certain date (or at least says they need it), but when faced with the real changes and dollars to make it happen, they may say never mind. And that means you can move forward. That’s the overall best outcome, most of the time.
I had this happen when a client realized they had a publication coming up that was announcing the new website design my team was rolling out, but when they were faced with the potential costs of the extra work and changes to make it happen, they decided it was less costly to just miss the publication date than to spend the extra money on the changes that were going to be necessary.
Summary / call for input
Customers have needs and requests. Every project, even the ones running very smoothly, hit bumps in the road. It’s not panic time – but it is time for thoughtful analysis and weighing options to choose the best approach.
Have you ever had a request like this? What processes did you go through to arrive at a solution with your project client?