Project Scope: Timelines
In this short episode, we get to the meat of building effective timelines to make your project run smoothly. Project timelines are more than just wild guesses. I know it can seem that way sometimes—especially when you see how often projects miss the deadline—but really, you’re creating the best most accurate estimate possible based on current available information. Experience and training Similar projects Resources and capabilities Knowledge of Client A good project timeline will leverage 4 things: experience and training, similar projects, available resources and capabilities, and knowledge of the client. You need to draw from your experience and training to accurately estimate how a project will run. If you don’t have enough of either, don’t lose hope. Your more experienced colleagues and managers may be able to help! Tap into their experience and learn the ins and outs of your types of projects while they’re still available. They may be too busy to help next time around—or expect you to do it on your own. If you don’t want to ask other people, or are not getting the kind of cooperation you need, look at similar projects and see what lessons can apply to you. In fact, this is good advice to follow even if you are getting help from others. Comparing two projects is all well and good, but are you working with the same team as the other project? Do you have the same expertise or equipment? If your project team uses new employees, or ones who have to learn an entirely new skill set, factor that into your estimate. Don’t assume that your team will be working at 100% the whole time—it never happens. It’s tempting to shave your estimates down to the wire to please the client, but that means a single mistake or absence will ruin your timeline. The client is just as responsible for keeping the project on track as you are. You need to set expectations for approval cycles and establish procedures for giving feedback, and then hold them to their commitments. If the client delays you, then they need to know how it affects the timeline. Speaking of which, everything the client does affects the timeline. Everything. Vague objectives? That wastes time while they try to figure it out. Vague deliverables? Tweaking them pushes back the deadline. Too many meetings? Not enough time spent on the actual project. If you’re smart enough to foresee these delays, you can also plan for it by putting contingency time into your estimate. You’re not scamming your client by putting in a safety margin—it’s responsible planning. Very few projects run according to plan, and the longer the plan, the less likely it is to stay on-track. The actual amount of contingency time varies on a case-to-case basis. You have to judge possible risks and set aside a reasonable amount of time to deal with them. You don’t want to overdo it, because you might raise the project budget too high for the client to afford—which we’ll cover next session, when we talk about Budgets.