Project planning of any size can be difficult in and of itself because of the nature of the project. IT projects, in particular, tend to have lots of details that have to be considered when planning. Any more though, the most difficult part of project planning for myself has to be dealing with resources that I do not directly control. In other words, getting people to do what they say they are going to do, when they agreed to have it done, and at the quality level you expected.
Nodding your head in agreement already? I ask you, Other than the staff that you have direct control over, does anyone ever do what they say they are going to do in the timeframe you need it? Obviously there are some people who just cant meet deadlines because they are poor planners or are unorganized, or both. But for the most part, I think people genuinely want to give you what you need. The problem: they are overcommitted period. There is no slack in their work queue, and the neverending flow of work into that queue is constantly getting reprioritized by them or their supervisor. So when you come looking for the status of the work product you are expecting guess what something more important has come up that has bumped your task. Grrrrrrr. Doesnt this drive you crazy, or am I being particularly cranky these days? Have you checked in on a resource lately only to find that they have left town for two weeks? But what about my deadline? you ask. Sorry! Aghhhhhhh!
Now that I have that off my chest, I realize that the situation with overcommitted people is unlikely to change for the better. In fact, you are probably overcommitted yourself. So how do we plan projects in order to deal with this issue? The answers fall in the area of Project Human Resource Management, Project Communications, and Project Risk Management.
In regards to Project Human Resource Management, we know that project staffing can be a negotiation process. Depending on your organization, project staff can be forced upon you or you may be able to negotiate for the time of others. If you have been with the organization for a while, you come to know people's abilities to manage multiple priorities and get the job done. Fight the good fight to try to get as much of those resources' time as possible. It is worth spending some of whatever leverage you might have up front in a project to get the people you want, rather than having to scramble because your resources cant meet your schedule.
Regarding Project Communications, make sure that expectations are clearly spelled out and understood by all resources involved with the project, right from the start. Additionally, distribute information in a timely manner and ensure that your performance reporting is timely and out in the open.
Lastly, regarding Project Risk Management, I now begin each project with an assumption of overcommitment of resources as a given project risk and that mitigation, avoidance and/or avoidance strategies must be identified right away. The concept of a contingency allowance or reserve of time is important in this process.
Other things to pay attention to are: Accurate time estimates from your resources on each task, particularly taking into account not only their current workload but anticipated workload; designing your project in such a manner that dependencies are reduced as much as possible; setting due dates prior to the absolute last minute that you need something; and lastly, holding people accountable for their commitments by letting them and the project team know that their inability to meet their deadlines is negatively impacting the effort.
Finally, after all this is said and done, you know that your project priorities for some of your resources will get pushed down and they will fail you. It is almost inevitable, particularly in smaller organizations where there are fewer resources and funding available and each person's role is amplified beyond what it should be. So you do what you do and deal with it, whether it is by modifying your project schedule, finding extra resources, doing things yourself, or whatever it takes.
Knowing from the start that this is going to happen and planning for it the best you can is about all you can do. Dont beat yourself up over a project that goes awry for reasons beyond your control, because in the long run, for the great majority of us, what happens in our project is typically not a life and death situation. And if things are that critical in a project, most of the time the proper attention from management and the stakeholders can help rectify the situation.