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Recently, I participated in a Project Manager interview and the following question were raised. What would be the correct answer for that?

A software development project is needed three resources to complete within three months. The head of the PMO can only allocate two resources to execute the project. The client is not acceptable to extend the schedule or descope the original scope. Developers are also not available to work extra hours due to their engagements. What steps you will take to manage the project.

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    This is like saying, "Doctor, it hurts when I punch myself in the face." I'm pretty sure the only sound medical advice in that kind of circumstance is: Don't do that! – Todd A. Jacobs Oct 2 at 19:57
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    If by 'resource' you mean 'person'. You can't. Don't try. What you've described is a grim death-march and the very best result is that someone will get a bonus for working twice as many hours, then a lengthy mental health break. You need more people, or less work, or more time. – AJFaraday Oct 4 at 15:37

10 Answers 10

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Kick the ball upstairs immediately

You have a project that is going to fail. You don't have any way of solving this.

If you just tried various things and let the three months pass, you will end up with an angry customer and angry bosses.

Instead contact the person/people who can actually solve the problem, while there is still time to act. Who that is depends on the organization.

At that level, they can

  • increase your resources,
  • shrink the scope, or
  • extend the time limit.

The last two involves talking to the customer too.

Make a presentation that briefly outlines these solutions and ask them to choose one (or a combination)

Now, it is possible that the bosses refuse to listen and keep insisting on the impossible. This leaves it up to you to choose the least painful way for the project to fail.

You cannot magic up extra resources, so that is out.

You can shrink the scope. The customer will not get all of what they want, but they will get something to tide them over until you have the whole thing ready.

You can also extend the time limit. If the product isn't finished, then it isn't finished. So sorry.

Which of these is the lesser evil depends on the details of the project. Is it possible to create a "half-product" within the time limit? Will the "half-product" be useful to the customer? If both of these are true, go for the scope shrink, otherwise deliver late.

  • +1. I would also ask the person responsible to prioritize the sub-tasks. This way, even if the outside parameters don't change – and the project 'fails' – you will have created the most valuable product possible. This also ensures that you scope correctly even if any of your estimations are off. – knallfrosch Oct 5 at 17:38
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If this is an interview question, I'm fairly certain that what they were looking for was how you handle being presented an impossible scenario.

Effectively what they asked you was this: You have a project that will be 2/3 done at the end of the project. You may change nothing. What do you do?

They want to see how you handle the situation.

  • "What do you do?" - isn't that basically what this question you're answering is asking? It also seems obvious from having an interviewer ask this in the first place. If OP knew the best thing to do in the given hypothetical scenario, why would they be asking this question? And if they did ask, they'd presumably be looking for how to structure or phrase their answer instead of just being told to tell the interviewer what they'd do. – NotThatGuy Oct 5 at 17:42
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So there are usually several parameters on a project that can vary:

  1. Budget
  2. Schedule
  3. Scope
  4. Risk
  5. Resources
  6. Quality

You've ruled out three of them, so think abut what the others can do:

  • Sacrifice quality.
  • Blow out the budget.
  • Increase the risk of not finishing (or some other risk).

Triple constraint in PM

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    Interesting. I've never seen this as a six-sided star. I guess usually Resources and Budget are grouped together, as are Scope and Quality, and finally Risk and Schedule. However, since all 3 corners of the resulting triangles have been deemed unnegotiable, I guess looking at the finer details makes sense... – Llewellyn Oct 2 at 18:42
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    I'm pretty certain that the intent of the question was to block all possible solutions. I suspect saying, for example, "I'll hire contractors" would be met with a simple "denied". This is a kobayashi maru interview question. – Daniel Oct 2 at 18:45
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Use CCPM. Set the task time estimates to 50% the original but explain to the 2 resources that management understands there it is a tight schedule and each activity may not hit the target date. This reduces Student Syndrome (procrastination) and Parkinson's Law (work will expand to fill whatever time is given) factors that cause completion times to take longer than necessary. See if tasks originally set to begin one after another can overlap in any way. CCPM should speed up some of the tasks but watch for signs of burnout. Be supportive even when a task runs a bit over the reduced deadline. Motivate to team strengths and reward milestones. See https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_chain_project_management

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As Daniel's answer says "You may change nothing. What do you do?"

This means that internal variables cannot be changed. I mean things like budget, quality, resources, contactors etc. In essence, there is no solution that satisfies all variables.

That leaves only one option: decline to take the project.

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The information in the Peter's answer is correct. The way the interviewer has asked the question, a number of options have already been taken away. The customer has communicated that they don't want to cut scope (quality) or push out timelines, and the developers cannot work more hours.

The only option left is to hire additional resources (presumably outside the organization) to complete the work, which would affect your budget. If increasing the budget is not an option, then adding a risk is an option. Stating that it's possible you won't successfully complete the project due to being understaffed and being constrained on scope, schedule, and resource availability. The second option (increased risk) would be undesirable as you are essentially kicking the can down the road and hoping that everything will go better than expected, which is not an effective strategy.

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This is the point where you show everyone the finger and leave. :-)

Basically you have to stand up and explain exactly how this is not realistic and going to fail, so that everyone, the client and the managers above you understand it.

Afterwards, and only afterwards, you can offer "solutions" how to cut corners. But everyone must understand that some aspects like risk, quality or feature scope will suffer from it. Work together with everyone until you find a solution that is acceptable to all. Or cancel the project. There are other less irrational clients out there.

The key is transparency upfront so everyone knows where they stand.

And please don't call people resources! :p

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Adding to the reply by @peter-k, it seems like you could try to find a way to deliver a compromise on quality and risk (of not delivering.) For example, you could try to identify the most important parts of the project and divide it into separate parts or a series of deliverable milestones. Then you can deliver the most critical parts first, so most of the risk goes to the least essential deliverables.

Another thing you can do is work out a process to increase the stakeholder visibility of your project. That way when the project schedule inevitably starts to slip, the client should notice early enough that they will agree to some (probably expensive) measures to get things back on track, or else reduce the project scope.

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Try working with the client to identify the MVP and work on getting that done within schedule. Once live you can continue working on implementing the rest in iterations.

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    Sort of goes against The client is not acceptable to extend the schedule or descope the original scope.. – Peter K. Oct 4 at 18:25
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Work is probabilistic. It is never deterministic. This means while your planning would have preferred three employees to finish in that time, it does not mean two cannot do it in that time or that three or four could never finish late.

The answer I would have provided in this interview is that I'd begin work with the two I have, asked for as much over time as possible, escalate the risks of being late and/or quality being degraded, mitigate what I can, keep everyone abreast of progress or lack thereof, and finish the project. The results will be whatever they are, some may not be happy, but I would've walked away happy with my performance.

Great project management can miss targets and crappy project management can meet targets. It's all about early escalation, great communication, great risk management. Those are the levers you can pull and the results will be based on that plus a thousand variables over which your have no control. That's all you get.

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