CXO

Nontraditional cures for keeping a project on schedule and on budget

Telling a client that a project is behind schedule and running over budget is unpleasant and possibly humiliating. Two nontraditional methods for involving in-house personnel from the project's inception can help keep things on track.

 When your client's in-house personnel fail to meet your benchmarks for scheduling and costs, everyone points a finger at you. After all, you're the one who proposed the project, so it's your fault.

The numerous methods for keeping a project on track and on budget often don't work because clients abdicate their authority to the expert (you). It's an unrealistic expectation because you're at the mercy of in-house attitudes and politics, and therein lies the problem: You have to make the client's management and in-house personnel part of the process. By sharing project ownership, you can hold them just as responsible to meeting schedules and budgets as they hold you. Sharing project ownership is a bit unconventional for some IT consultants, but it's worth trying.

Rely on a spec team

Traditionally, IT consultants draw up a set of specifications, which the client signs off on. Regardless of how thorough you are, you will make mistakes. Yet, this has been the traditional method for scoping most projects, and it's why schedules collapse. While you're reevaluating, rewriting, and waiting for approval, the project falls behind.

Instead of taking total responsibility for scoping the project, assemble a specification team that consists of you, your technicians, and the client's managers and users. The entire team should work out the specifications together. The in-house personnel will prove invaluable in helping you avoid the pitfalls and problems they've already incurred. Also, because it's their project too, it's more likely they'll proactively seek solutions to meet the timetable and budget rather than be complacent.

A team comes with a serious inherent problem: There's no incentive for the in-house employees to work with you. In fact, taking part in the process may even put them behind in their own work. You'll need management's encouragement, and it can be tough to persuade management to free up the necessary personnel. If the project's important enough (and the budget's high enough), you can probably convince the company's IT manager or CIO that project scrutiny up-front will avoid costly delays later.

Schedule from the top down

When scheduling projects, you traditionally consult with in-house personnel to determine how much time they need to complete their project-related tasks. You know that people pad those estimates, but you can't really do anything about it. To make matters worse, if you're collaborating with several levels of in-house personnel, that padding seems to grow exponentially.

You need everyone's input, but when it comes to scheduling in-house tasks, consult both the individuals and management. Managers see a bigger picture; this doesn't negate the individual's position in that picture, but management knows the critical nature of the project. In fact, management can decide to allocate more resources (time, money, and temporary help) if necessary.

Nontraditional might be just what you need

Some IT consultants will balk at both of these tactics; they see in-house personnel as intrusive and uninformed, and they don't want clients deciding scheduling benchmarks.

If your projects stay on schedule and on budget, keep on the same path because you're doing something right. On the other hand, if your projects aren't meeting schedules and budgets, it might be time to try something new.

Do you consider these methods nontraditional or well-known insider tricks of the trade? Do you have any nontraditional project management tips to share with the community? Post your thoughts and tips in the discussion.

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About

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

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