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You are assigned a three month duration project at the end of the calendar year that has legal obligation of a finish by Jan 1. The schedule is very aggressive with higher odds missing that date than hitting it. The team is between 12 to 15 full-time staff.

Since the schedule is very tight, holidays and vacations that occur at the end of the year present a threat.

How would you approach scheduling the team during this time? The team, by the way, is made up of contractors, sellers of services versus internal employees assigned to a project.

I know this is a bit of a polling question but I hope we can entertain it a bit. This is relevant to this time of the year, too!

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As long as the answers provide explanation and context, I personally have no problem with such questions. You've also provided plenty of specifics about an actual problem, which again should yield great responses. +1. The only thing I suggest is coming up with a more specific title that describes the problem. Good luck! ;) –  jmort253 Oct 29 '12 at 22:11
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Define "legal obligation of a finish". Does every single one of your project requirements match to a legal obligation, meaning that there is no 90, 80, or even 70% solution that is legally acceptable? What are some the primary risks - is it the team not finishing their work, the contractors not being able to provide their services, both, or something else? –  Thomas Owens Oct 29 '12 at 22:22
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Legal meaning the state has legislation in effect starting Jan 1 to be able to perform a certain capability for its citizens. The solution planned for Jan 1 is already partial, just to be legal enough. –  David Espina Oct 29 '12 at 22:28
    
Renegotiate the scope. Put critical things to be done by deadline. Arrange the rest of work on whatever conditions/schedule you can mutually agree. I'm wondering if there's another solution at all, regardless of staffing/holidays/etc. :) –  bytebuster Oct 30 '12 at 3:08
    
So you're really aiming to complete by 21 December with some tidying up of issues on the few days after 25 December? –  ssbrewster Oct 31 '12 at 9:59
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5 Answers 5

up vote 6 down vote accepted
  • Make sure that you have talked with the client and explained the truth of the situation to them. The tight deadline is not likely to be met, and they should consider what alternatives may be possible (reduced scope, temporary solutions, getting a delay to the effect of the legislation, etc.)

  • Take a look at the work to be done. Can any of it be tackled by people lacking specific domain / technical knowledge? If so, consider bringing on people to tackle just those pieces while your experts tackle the pieces that need their attention. Make sure that you can effectively coordinate any added team members.

  • If you haven't already, I'd talk to the team as individuals and make sure they understand the situation. Ask them for suggestions on alternative approaches that can save time. We had a project once where two days of an engineer experimenting with an alternative approach turned into saving 33% of the development time on a project.

  • Have repetitive tasks been automated? This is particularly applicable to testing, but also applies to any other activities that reduce the effectiveness of your experts.

  • Ask what can be done to make working more at this time of year more palatable. See if vacations can be delayed until after the deadline. See if holiday time off can be moved. Make sure that they can see a light at the end of the tunnel and that this isn't going to continue forever. Hopefully you have already established a good relationship with these individuals.

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Truth, right. Its better to be diplomatic than true. Its business, you cant be truthful and loose the business. Automation on projects that live for less than one year are waste of time. –  Siddharth Oct 31 '12 at 5:18
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@Siddarth - Hiding the truth on a project is a sure way to lose your job if anything goes wrong. Transparency is a much better approach particularly when you're dealing with statutory deadlines. I don't think "diplomacy" will hold up to public scrutiny if the project is not delivered. –  ssbrewster Oct 31 '12 at 10:03
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A project is made up of scope schedule and resources. It forms the basis of project management, called the flexibility matrix.

            Highly Flexible   Moderately Flexible   Not Flexible
Scope                              tick
Schedule                                                 tick                     
Resources         tick

A smart project manager knows, that no one will give him this flexibility matrix. Nor can he share his flexibility matrix with anyone, not even his wife :). A smart project manager will know that he has to ask the right questions to the right people at the right place at the right time to construct this secret flexibility matrix. A smart project manager will not pin people to what they say, but pin the project to what is understood from what they say.

Its not a trick, its a art. Its a smooth river flowing like water. Take time to develop. This is one skill that is not taught ANYWHERE.

I suggest. Cool Down. Start to believe that your neck is not on the line. Start to communicate with people outside of office, outside of their cubes, outside of their cabins, outside of their stressful work environments. Connect with them at a personal level. 50% issues will be resolved. Since people will start telling you the truth on your face. You will be able to make a few puzzles fit really well. Some you will have to talk to other people and make decisions.

Develop your questioning skills. When you walk with these people for a cup of tea, coke ask questions, try to understand things that you did not care about. Kill that tough exterior of yours. Let people be approachable, stop doing what you are doing, and listen to people. Be ok getting disturbed. People will help you get the secret flexibility matrix done.

Edit : Kind of questions you need to ask Scope :

  • Why is this feature important ? Make a personal judgement about it and discuss it out.
  • What if we don't deliver this feature ? Who is impacted ? Be careful when you ask this question. You should already know the answer to this question, but you should ask this question, state what you believe and tell them how important you think this feature is. Discussions again here.
  • If you ask, what is the priority of this feature and complain about lack of time/resources to complete the work, I can bet you will get a response "high priority". So a smarter question to ask is, what feature do you want us to complete first. Talk about sequencing, instead of priority. This always hits them in the face :). They have to tell you what is more important to them. Here be careful and dont ask stupid questions like, should I first sort the data or import the data :). Sequencing instead of Priority always does the trick.

Kind of questions for schedule

  • Will this feature be used 10 days after release ? If the probabilility is low, can I live with this defect and deliver a patch after the main release ?
  • How many customers will be impacted by the loss of this part of the feature ?
  • How soon will a customer identify the missing part of the feature ?
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Cool, I finished my flexibility matrix but my problems are still there. What do I do with the flexibility matrix once I have it? –  Buttons840 Oct 31 '12 at 4:52
    
Shut the f**k up about it :). If you talk to people about it or show it to your boss, there will be more trouble. Just remember the flexibility matrix, and ask questions to negotiate based on that. –  Siddharth Oct 31 '12 at 5:08
    
Keep one more thing in mind. Everytime your team reaches a milestone, update your flexibility matrix. Since the closer the release, resources suddenly become flexible. You can borrow resources for a few weeks towards the end for testing and bugtriages and bug bashs right ? –  Siddharth Oct 31 '12 at 9:26
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I have a story from 2009. We were in the similar situation and my bosses offered the following deal to the teams: they can have extra money for their extra work during this period, plus their vacation days will be shifted to the next year with some extra days (the local law allowed them to do it, and it is still possible if the company can prove that the situation was an emergency and risked the business).

I know that the money based motivation is a bad practice and one can see that story as a good example of it, however at that time, nobody really saw it that way. The teams knew that there are problems and there was a some kind of diversity. Certain people were happy to get some extra money, and since they had no family, they went for it. Others liked the extra time and went for a longer vacation in January.

I've learned a couple of things during that period:

  • transparency really works
  • people are mature enough to make decisions on their own and can make sacrifices
  • the bad effect of the money motivation kicks in when there is no real transparency and the managers have no other tools or skills

I'm guessing here, but maybe your contractors would love to earn some extra money at the end of the year and show good faith so that they'll get some extra work in the future. The internal employees may be loyal enough that they actually care about the company and they are willing to make some sacrifices. Again, I'm guessing.

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I'm glad you brought up the subject of money and I wouldn't say that money based motivation is a bad practice as such. I certainly wouldn't come in to work if I wasn't payed. As you say, it has to be treated with transparency. I was in a similar situation to you where it was coming to the end of the year and my managers wanted me to get everyone in my team to come in and do free overtime. I told them I would ask my team if they wanted to earn overtime at 1.5x The team said they would do it for 2x. My managers said no because other teams had already worked for nothing So it didn't happen! –  worldofchris Oct 31 '12 at 11:34
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Conduct a network analysis. Fast track where you can. Crash along the critical path.

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Prioritize the list of duties and finishes the duties with the highest priority first.

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