Timeline vs. Deadline

.. or plan vs. wish list

When I was young and unexperienced, I assumed that a client’s organization is, by definition of the relationship, better managed. Haphazardly, to my great disbelief, and definitely too late, somewhere along the way I realized that that is, in way too many cases, far from reality. Since, I realized that many, many organizations define deadlines and call it a plan. Determining deadlines is like writing a wish list: “We’d like this job to be done by this date”. It is far from any planning.

A usual unsuccessful scenario that we repeat from project to project goes like this:

4 weeks before the deadline: “We have a deadline in 4 weeks”… and we start working, but other project needs help, so we all help there. It’s more urgent and this deadline is in 4 weeks.

3 weeks before the deadline: “We have 3 weeks…. ugh, there is so much work to be done” ….and we continue working

2 weeks before the deadline: “We have 2 weeks , ugh, there is so much work to be done; it would be good to add more people on the project” ….and we continue working

1 week before the deadline: “We have 1 week before the deadline, ugh, there is so much work to be done, let’s pull people form other projects to help” ….and we continue working

Day of the deadline: “We are not done, there are so many things to be done; can we get an extension? We’ll pull even more people in, we have to finish in 3 days”

So, we run from project to project, deadline to deadline, extension to extension, always late and exhausted, without sense of achievement and accomplishment.

Planning is not hard or painful. It requires asking the right question: in order for this to happen 28 days from today, what needs to happen on day 27….In order for that to happen on day 27, what needs to happen on day 26 …..all the way to day 0 (today). Then you go forward: can we accomplish this today, … if we can accomplish this today, can we can accomplish next step tomorrow…. few times up and down the timeline…..like zipper, making sure that wishes on one side, match with abilities on the other…. zipped together, they create reality of your project happening. Timeline plan gives you pulls and levers to react and adjust along the way, add more people, come on the weekend, prioritize tasks…. at the end, it’s better to ask for an extension 2 weeks before the deadline than on the day of the deadline. And not less importantly, a plan gives your team sense of purpose, direction and control. So the improved usual scenario should be the same each day:

“Did we accomplish what we planed for today?….Do we need to adjust?” And we go home with a sense of accomplishment and control.

And please, please don’t forget to plan some time for the unforeseen. How do I know that it will happen when I don’t see it now? Well….so far it happened every single time, so hoping it will not happen with this project just because we don’t see it and can’t tell what exactly will happen, is really not based in reality.

How does your team plan?