When To Turn Up The Heat
Don't wait for the last minute; use deadlines wisely to move projects forward and keep quality high
By Eric Goldfarb
Issue date this column appeared: 11/21/94
My wife doesn't like to watch sports on TV, except for the last few minutes of a game-any game. "The last few minutes always decide the game-why bother with the rest?" she asks.
Those last few pressure-filled minutes are indeed different. Time pressure requires total concentration on the task at hand and stronger teamwork. It forces players to make the most of winning opportunities.
Successful business executives also know that self-imposed time pressure enhances performance; it can help create new markets and push profits higher. Many information systems departments have adopted this mind-set as well.
Tales From The Dark Side
But there is a dark side: How many times have you seen an IS project start slowly and make little progress until the deadline draws near? Then it's slammed in, more often than not with poor results. The last few milestones of the project are accomplished with great speed and exhilaration, but the overall quality suffers because the up-front phases of the effort were neglected.
How can we manage our time effectively yet still take advantage of the speed and exhilaration that deadlines exact? Just as coaches and players need to apply time-pressure techniques intelligently, technology managers must impose time constraints without causing undue panic and harming project quality. Simply moving up the deadlines won't work. But proper use of time constraints can get projects delivered on time and under budget, increase user confidence, and boost quality.
The first part of such p lanning should be an awareness that in every company, time has two elements-horizontal (weeks and months) and vertical (hours expended by a person or team).
Horizontal time must be managed from the start of the project. Adding resources to make up for lost timemay actually delay a project because of the extra training and closer supervision required. Planning must start before the project begins.
Managing vertical time requires a clear definition of the task at hand as well as control of its limits, appropriate resource levels and selection, time-imposed decision-making, and adherence to specified standards. If you successfully manage vertical time, you'll see a number of positive results, including simplification of complex issues, greater team concentration and cooperation, quicker correction of mistakes, and maximum project quality.
Realistic use of both vertical and horizontal time is crucial to completing a project. If we were foolish enough to assign one resourc e to work seven 24-hour days (vertical time) to complete a task in one week (horizontal time), the project and the process would both fail. Managers must carefully choose appropriate tasks for time-pressure management.
Planning when and where to use time constraints is the essence of the organization's game plan. A fairly straightforward checklist can help: Define the project objective and work; break the work into phases, then break those phases into tasks; assign resources to each task; estimate how much time each task needs (good managers know their team members' experiences with past projects); arrange the tasks according to the workflow associated with other tasks; schedule the tasks; check the acceptability of the total cost and completion dates; and, if necessary, revise the plan.
The next step is crucial: Determine where you can apply time pressure without compromising quality, then revise the schedule with the time-compressed tasks worked into the phases and kick off the project.
Two tip s for navigating this crucial step: First, develop team-management techniques to ensure a consistent and strong rationale for applying time constraints; time pressure shouldn't appear to be arbitrary. Second, insist that all team members be present at the beginning and end of each compressed task.
Time constraints sprinkled into a project plan are effective because they exert constant, incremental pressure for results. While they are only one component of intelligent project management, time-pressure principles, when coupled with a focus on project direction and outcome, can yield dynamic results for your organization. Play ball!
This column appeared in Final Word, a forum for professionals with opinions on information management. Your contributions are welcome. IW cannot return unsolicited manuscripts. Please send submissions to: InformationWeek, 600 Community Drive, Manhasset, N.Y. 11030, or E-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Language of UX: Beyond Buzzwords -
- Get practical information on how to develop your organization's mobile commerce application - Mobile Commerce World - Mobile Commerce World
- Get practical strategies to build a solid plan for profitability and success - Mobile Commerce World - Mobile Commerce World
- Delve into technologies and business issues around mobile payments and wallets - Mobile Commerce World - Mobile Commerce World
- Learn how to enage customers through mobility - Mobile Commerce World - Mobile Commerce World
- How to Start Your Big Data Journey
- Meeting the Unilever eScience Challenges: To out-compute is to out-compete
- Smarter Mobile Security: Securing BYOD
- Accelerate Agility Now: WebSphere Application Server v8.5.5 Overview
- Intelligent Management of WAS Applications: Reduce Cost, Complexity, and Errors
This Week's Issue
- Metzler: The 2013 Application and Service Delivery Handbook
- Comparison of Cisco and ShoreTel Unified Communication Solutions
- Don't Get Stuck on Your Virtualization Journey: Where to Focus Next
- How Virtualization is Key to Managing Risk
- Real World Considerations for Implementing Desktop Virtualization eBook