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Sometimes I have teams that think there is little point to being ahead of schedule. I try to convince them that things will inevitably come up that will take up precious time to sort out, so we need to hustle, as described in The Mythical Man Month. They understand the need to finish on time, but not the necessity to work harder than necessary to do so even if something goes wrong.

How should I convince them that hustle is important? Should I yield to their stubbornness and let things proceed on schedule, but not ahead of it? Is it okay for a manager to allow their project to progress such that they would not have enough time to deal with any minor catastrophe and still finish on schedule?

(Feel free to give software-specific answers, but I'm looking for as generic an answer as possible as this isn't a software team.)

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Sorry, this may hurt a bit - I think the problem is less with your team, and more with your schedule. If I understand correctly, you developed a schedule (presumably with input from those doing the work), and then are asking them to work faster than the agreed upon schedule; in case something comes up (risk management).

As the PM, your schedule should already include that contingency/buffer time, and the duration estimates should have been discussed and compressed as much as possible during the schedule creation, to then allow for contingency time to be added in.

There's two issues with your request - the first is that you're really not sure of the risks involved, so you're hedging your bets instead of identifying them. The second is the presumption that your team gave you inflated duration estimates and can finish faster because they weren't realistic in the beginning.

Look at it this way - imagine you gave your boss a realistic schedule that said you'd complete the project by Jan. 1, and he agreed. Then after you began work, he came back and said "you know, you really need to finish it sooner. Not because anything's changed, but "just in case."

What would your response be?

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You are trying to build up schedule capital to use for contingency. That is an interesting approach but implies a schedule target on the outside of your probabilistic estimate. For example, if we can assume your project has a beta or triangular schedule distribution with a minimum duration of eight months, a maximum of 15, and a most likely of 11. An outside estimate might be a 13-month duration target for your schedule baseline. This represents somewhere in the 80th percentile, meaning you have between an 80% likelihood of finishing at 13 months or less. This is a non risky schedule and represents a long runway for your project. See the graph.

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Parkinson's Law and Student Syndrome take over and you have a team whose work op tempo is nice, calm, and relaxed. Thus, you feel the need to somehow get them to hustle.

My supposition is, if you set your schedule target baseline aggressively, say around the 10- or 11-month duration in this example, your team's op tempo would be at the expected level where getting them to "hustle" would not be of concern. It is a riskier schedule but you would have your calculated contingent reserves ready to deploy if you start to slip to the right.

Both favorable and unfavorable schedule variances accrue in a stochastic or random way. Trying to "create" the variance will likely cause you more grief than its worth, i.e., your efforts will not likely produce much. I'd focus on the more aggressive targets.

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After reading through your question a few times it seems to me as though your confusing two separate aspects of project & team management:

  • Risk management
  • Team motivation

Yes, I agree that you want your team to "Hustle" on every project they are working on... However, you can't use if's and but's to make sure a team is moving as fast as they can be. The age old excuse "we have to hurry to get this done in case something unexpected happens" simply doesn't fly. In fact attempts to use this as a "motivator" will generally act as a team de-motivator.

How should I convince them that hustle is important?

Personally, it is less about convincing and more about showing them the way. In fact this is one of the most important concepts of building an empowered and productive team IMO. If you find yourself not knowing what to do next, I would recommend reading "Zapp! The The Lightning of Empowerment". It is one of the most enlightening books I have read throughout my career and should provide you a solid foundation to start from.

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