A Box Office Hit

In business school, Project Management covers things like Pert charts, Gantt charts, critical paths, resource buffers, contingency plans and risk mitigation. A successful project is one that is based on a sound plan and a judicious schedule. In practice however, corporate application erodes this academic philosophy like the Colorado river through the Arizona desert.

The first time functional manager energetically responds to the request for a project plan for their piece of a multifunctional project. The motivated manager pulls the experts of their team together to work out a precise plan covering the needed requirements, work estimates, planned milestones, deliverables and checkpoints. The team emerges from the intense session with a sound project plan.

Unfortunately, the completion date for the plan is long after the desired delivery date. The manager is rewarded with the task of reworking the plan in order to “pull in the schedule.” This demand is usually delivered with the helpful direction to “go back and sharpen your pencil.” (translated : "not the answer I was looking for...try again.")

Fortunately, executive project leaders offer many sharpening tools. First of all, since we want to plan for success and don’t want to plan for failure, any risk mitigation can be removed from the schedule. That should pull it in a couple of weeks. If we remove testing (since there is some chance, however small, that it will work the first time) we can save a couple more weeks. If we assume that resources are not an issue, then we should be able to cut the schedule in half (something about nine women and child birth comes to mind). And finally, if we would have started sooner, we would be several weeks ahead of where we are now. There....if you add all that up, we can meet the desired date! This is known as the “movie plan” (as in “Mission Impossible” and “Back to the Future”).

Astute managers realize that a request for a schedule is not intended to find out how long a project will take, but is instead a request for a “plan” to complete the work by the desired date. Managers are smart and quickly adapt; rather than wasting effort, the savvy manager asks for the desired date at the outset and then puts together a “plan” to deliver on that date. Never mind that there is no basis for the schedule. The other functions have clearly done the same...and chances are that someone else will be late. Now that is what I call a plan!