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All. I work in an environment wherein programmers get their tasks from a queue and resources are being managed by a line manager. I use an application to log the work needed for the project and the line manager is responsible for the distribution of the work.

As a Project Manager, I do not have the authority over the resources but only the logged work by assigning it their team queue. This is very challenging on my part because they cannot provide an ETA accurately for deviation happens such as delays, resource allocations, unexpected changes, prioritization from upper management, and so on.

What is the best approach in managing the customers expectation when things are not going as planned? I know communication plays a critical role but is there any other way to turn around things. In situations like this,what should I remember and keep in mind?

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In the environment you describe, their ability to provide an ETA is not relevant to you. You are in a production environment, which means you can measure their performance. The "deviations" about which you wrote are likely nothing more than normal process variances that occur in your environment. If the metrics are already available, pull them out, graph them and see what it is telling you. Then you can set realistic expectations with your customers and monitor their performance to make sure you see no out of control signals. This is better than their ETA every day of the week.

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There are several aspects to be considered in suggesting an answer to your question. These include:

  • Getting better control of the resources;
  • Improving the estimates to recognise the reality of your situation, where task duration and task effort are potentially quite different;
  • The relationship that your company has with its customers (at all levels);
  • Your authority to make things happen.

Getting better control would require that you can agree with the line manager some form of guaranteed level of resource availability. Even if this is significantly lower than 100%, you would have some comfort that you would have at least a minimum level of resource availability. If such an agreement can be reached between you and the line manager, you may wish to consider publicising the agreement to senior management and explaining the benefits of this to them, to encourage them to honour the agreement.

Improving the estimates may require that your resources provide you with an estimate of the effort required, while you apply a scaling factor to convert this to a duration. For example, if you anticipate that your resources would only be available 70% of the time, and they have suggested that they can do the work with 7 days of effort, you should estimate 10 elapsed days for the work. This may seem too simplistic, but it may help. Your estimates will potentially improve over time as you build a better set of metrics, which may vary from person to person or skill to skill.

The relationship between your company and its customers is key to this. If you are having to justify slippage, and your customers are complaining when you fail to meet deadlines, is there an opportunity to escalate these complaints to your own management? Do your managers have to deal with the customer complaints, and if so, do they then take steps to resolve the causes of the complaints? If they don't meet with the customers sufficiently often, then perhaps they need to be invited to customer meetings - but don't just drop them from a great height. Brief them in advance so that they can support you and hopefully help you to work through some of the issues.

Finally, as a project manager, you need to have sufficient authority to make things happen. If this isn't the case, you may have to have a heart-to-heart discussion with your own line manager, and see what can be done to give you the necessary authority. Bear in mind that one part of the PM's role is risk management, and it seems to me that you may not be carrying this out effectively - if at all. Anything that is a risk to the success of the project should be flagged as a risk and managed accordingly, and escalated as necessary.

It should be possible to make a significant improvement in a positive way, without breaking any existing good relationships. You don't need to become an ogre to make things happen, but you do need a level of management support. If this is not forthcoming, then you have a different problem...!

  • how should I escalate without sounding like "The boy who cried wolf" ? – user614 Sep 24 '11 at 14:37
  • The risk should be evaluated in terms of both impact and likelihood. If the impact is very low, or the likelihood is very low, then the risk is probably low and should be documented but not escalated. The risks that need to be escalated are those where the overall risk is high and cannot be managed within your own sphere of influence. To avoid accusations of crying wolf, I suggest that you record and monitor / manage all risks that you identify, and share the details with your manager(s), but only ask for help with those that merit it. – Iain9688 Sep 25 '11 at 18:52
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The best approach is to be proactive and build in time in your initial plans to address these kinds of issues, either as contingency reserves for individual tasks or as management reserves for the key deliverables.

If you haven't been able to plan for these kinds of problems my only suggestion is to be as honest, forthcoming and timely as possible with your customer. Make sure you provide estimates that you know you can meet. Every time you change your estimates you will lose credibility.

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