There is no launch date until the PM says so!

A common reality that PMs face is being assigned a project with the go-live date “seemingly” preordained.

To be fair, when sponsors build their business case for a project, it is important to include a timeframe from whence an ROI and other planning assumptions can be based.

However, it MUST be understood that ANY date shared at this early stage (prior to assigning a PM and their developing a detail-level plan, vetted with the team) is merely a notion; a strongly desired target.

In reality, there may be business considerations that absolutely require a project be completed on a specific date (e.g., a distribution partner’s contract with the firm ends on a specific day and we need to be fully ready to conduct business without the partner on the following day). This is an example of “failure is NOT an option.”

Sure, the project may be challenging. But, failure would mean significant, even irreparable damage to the business. In these instances the sponsor will typically ask the PM to let them know of ANYTHING needed to ensure success! That is, they are prepared to pull out all the stops!

Even so, in all instances, I consider these (early stage) dates as a target. And, it is important to reference them as such in all communications and presentations, until the PM has created a detail-level plan which has been vetted with the team.

Only when the PM has a fully vetted plan, is it appropriate to indicate that we now have a “committed” go-live date. If this date is in alignment with the previously established target, we are good-to-go. If not, discussions will need to take place to consider:

  • Are we over-estimating or making anything more complicated than it needs to be?
  • Would additional or different resources help us achieve our objectives sooner?
  • Is there anything that can be pulled out-of-scope and addressed in a phase II+?

If the answer is “no” to all of the above, then the target go-live date will need to shift.

The alternative would be to keep the original “target” date resulting in what I call a “death march.” That is, the team knows that the date specified is totally unrealistic, yet they are nevertheless being held accountable to achieve it. This is where team members (and observers) become disenchanted with the project, upper management, the firm itself, and will ultimately result in employee departures.

We’ve seen this movie before and no-one likes the ending. There is a MUCH better way!

By providing the PM and team the opportunity to perform detail-level planning, which results in a go-live date that is realistic and achievable, they will be MUCH MORE empowered to move heaven and earth to bring the project to fruition on the date specified.

When sharing our plan, it is crucially important for the PM to clearly articulate the risks that, if materialized, will impact the date, including (but not necessarily limited to):

  • A change in scope and/or direction:
    • The need to accommodate more requirements than originally documented in our scoping exercise.
    • The business climate or direction changes rendering in-process or completed work as unnecessary resulting in new work that must be undertaken to meet the revised project objectives.
    • Note: These exceptions ONLY materialize upon agreement from the project sponsor (and/or steering committee) that it is worthwhile to shift the date to accommodate the (absolutely critical) new or changed requirement(s).
  • A change in priorities – Another initiative (e.g., an FDA audit) takes precedence over what we are working on.

In summary, upon receiving a project assignment with a desired (a.k.a. target) go-live date, the PM must diligently drive the appropriate planning activities to lock-in the committed date. And, this can ONLY happen via the preparation of a detail-level plan, fully vetted with the team.

If you are looking to improve PM competencies in yourself, or organization, please reach out so we can discuss how I can help.

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