planning a project

Why you should not plan your projects on 8-hours days!

One of the early tasks within any project is to construct a project plan.  The plan should inform how long the project will take, how many resources are required and ultimately the cost of the project.

This is important as it means the sponsor should then be able to make an informed decision if the project business case still makes sense.  See article 5 reasons why a project needs a business case.

Challenge

In many cases, the estimates and costs do not align to what the sponsor had hoped.  Usually the costs are much higher and time scales too long.

This can mean that the business case is less attractive or even not viable.

This situation can lead to the sponsor to place pressure on the project manager to reduce the costs and timescales.

The sponsor may challenge the planning using the following:

Maximise Resource Utilisation

This is a fancy way of saying, construct the plan based on resources being fully productive for every hour of the working day.

Depending on your organisation this will typically mean a 7 to 8 hour working day with 5 working days in a week.

Risk: the reality is that while there may be 8 hours in the working day, most resources will only be productive for half of this time (4 hours).  So, if you plan on a full 8-hour day, you are placing the project at risk.

Weekend Working

Another example related to the point above is weekend working.  This is where the project is planned on a 6 or 7 working day week.

Risk: This is very dangerous as this will mean the project team working long weeks with minimum time to recover.  While this may work for short durations I.e. in the last few weeks of a project, it is not sustainable for the duration of the project, especially if it will run for months or even years.

There is the added challenge that it removes one of the contingency options.  If the project plan is based on weekend work, then the only option will be to add more resources if a date needs to be met.

Remove Contingency

Sponsors who have experience of projects will ask what level of contingency has been added.  If they feel it is excessive, they may ask for it to be reduced.

However, if budgets are tight, they may ask for it to be removed completely.

Risk: projects by their nature have many risks that may impact progress.  Contingency is the recognised method for helping mitigate these risks.  Removing the contingency will mean that the only options available will be to re-plan for a later delivery date, reduce scope or request more budget and resources (maybe all of them).

Important

All of these interventions will place risk on the project.

In many cases it will lead to the project team working prolonged, extended hours often meaning that they are not performing to the best of their ability leading to reduced quality.

The usually outcome is team members “burning out” and either going on sick leave or leaving for another role.

This then impacts the project further as resources are reduced and / or knowledge is lost.

Summary

Sponsors can place pressure on project managers to make the plan, budget and timeline meet their requirements.

While the project manager may find it hard to deliver a hard message on the plan.  Allowing and accepting the changes mentioned above will result in serious issues as the project progresses.

If you think that it is difficult telling the sponsor that the plan is the plan at the start, it is far harder explaining to the sponsor that the project is failing and needs more time, budget and resource when the project has been running many months.

So, it is important that the project manager takes feedback from the sponsor BUT only makes changes where it is appropriate.

If you do have to accept these types of changes, make sure you document and make the sponsor clear of the risk they are accepting.